Safeguarding crew reputation in the age of social media

On the morning of February 24th, Captain Simon Johnson was lining up M/Y Go in preparation for the 10.30am bridge in St. Maarten. If you’re in the yachting industry, you’ve probably been hiding under the proverbial rock if you don’t know the rest of the story. Despite the onboard computer systems telling him all was in normal working order, the yacht’s gearbox seized into ahead. His split-second decision to make a controlled impact with the St. Maarten Yacht Club wooden dock averted a far worse disaster with the busy road bridge.

Within 20 minutes, video footage of the event had been uploaded to social media and the judgement began to flow. “Asleep at the helm,” said one. “You wouldn’t let this guy Loose in charge of a row boat (sic),” said another on one post which has been viewed 128,000 times.

Fortunately, no one was physically hurt in the incident, but in spreading a story before the facts had been established, the reputation Simon had built up in yachting (and Captain roles onboard M/Y Lady Lau and M/Y St David among others in a career spanning 40 years) threatened to collapse unless he retook control of the story. “To be annihilated like that in the industry was extraordinary,” says Simon.

“With the Owner’s support, I put a statement on my Facebook page within 12 hours so we could take control of the narrative” he explains. “I explained that this was not an issue of incompetence, but of a major malfunction.” The next day an article in a local newspaper, The Daily Herald, was published after Simon was interviewed by one of its journalists.

By presenting the truth, Simon was able to take the scandal out of the story. He also ensured that, when the news was picked up by global media outlets, (as superyacht incidents inevitably do), the facts ran alongside the footage.

A high-profile figure in the industry, Simon says his reputation was established enough to ride out the crisis, although he acknowledges, nearly a month on, that he still feels stung “But if it were a 30-year-old Captain in their first command role, they may struggle to come back from this,” he explains. Aware of the link between social media and reputation (he explains he has previously engaged an independent audit of his social media presence), Simon was obviously savvy enough to understand the steps he needed to take, but not everyone in his situation would.

In this age of fake news, the incident has raised an important question: should superyachts be proactive about putting in place a strategy to manage a social media storm?

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