The Streisand Effect: What is it and how does it affect my brand?

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BRIEF: The Streisand effect, inspired by Barbara Streissand, refers to the phenomenon where trying to censor or hide something brings more attention to it. The article discusses the concept of good/bad press and how it can affect your brand.

When you hear the name Streisand, you immediately think of one person—the iconic Barbra Streisand, one of the greatest singers of all time. However, aside from being one of the top-selling female artists of all time, she is also infamous for a very popular phenomenon named after her called the Streisand effect.

What is the Streisand effect?

The Streisand effect is a social phenomenon that happens when you bring more attention to something the more that you try to hide or censor it. This was coined after  Barbra Streisand attempted to sue a photographer who took a photo of her house, claiming the photographer violated her privacy. However, what gained media traction was not the actual photograph but the lawsuit itself. By suing the photographer, she incidentally brought more attention to the issue and as a result, more people saw the photograph of her house. By trying to censor the photo, she ended up making it more public than she intended, which is ironic considering the whole point of the lawsuit was due to a violation of privacy.

From Tom Cruise to Beyonce, no one is safe

When it comes to the Streisand effect, no one is safe, especially with the widespread reach of the internet and the media today. Many celebrities and businesses have fallen victim to the Streisand effect. 

Back in 2008, Scientologists tried to stop the spread of an interview of Tom Cruise talking about the religion of Scientology. However, they managed to achieve the opposite of that. Instead of being taken down from the internet, the video gained a lot of attention to the point that a hacker group called Anonymous made an anti-Scientology campaign called Project Chanology. While the Church of Scientology tried to control the damage, it was already too late. 

In another instance, Beyonce experienced the Streisand effect after she performed in the 2013 Super Bowl. After her number, Buzzfeed posted a compilation of what they thought were the best moments of her performance. However, her publicity team thought some of the photos used in the article were unflattering and tried to take them down by contacting Buzzfeed. Instead of removing the photos, Buzzfeed made a follow-up article emphasizing those unflattering photos of Beyonce during her performance. This ultimately resulted in a very famous meme of her that most people have seen circulating around the internet. 

These situations go to show just how powerful the Streisand effect can be. No matter who you are and what you do, no one is safe from this phenomenon.

Consequences of the Streisand effect

As mentioned before, whether you are a celebrity or a business, you can become a victim to the Streisand effect if you do not take the proper steps to manage your publicity and image beforehand. 

In terms of business, the Streisand effect can especially happen to you if you do not have proper practices in all aspects of your business whether it be in handling your customers, your employees or even your brand ambassadors. One slip-up in your operations can ruin your brand image if it becomes public and when it does, it will most likely spread like wildfire. 

Take for example what happened to Cookies by the Bucket, a famous cookie bakery in the Philippines. Over the past few years, the business became a well-loved brand among many Filipinos. It garnered so much success that it was able to establish a lot of branches nationwide. However, that all changed when an alleged issue regarding their brand ambassadors’ data privacy was leaked. 

After a former employee reached out to one of the brand ambassadors involved, it was reportedly found that the executives of the business spread the private contact details of their female brand ambassadors amongst each other. The former employee also discovered the executives allegedly saying lewd things about these women in group chats. Angry and disgusted, the women involved spoke up about the issue which prompted a lot of customers to be outraged by what happened, calling for the boycott of the brand.

In response to the controversy, the Cookies by the Bucket Facebook page released an official statement claiming that they will investigate the matter and that this behavior was unacceptable. They tried to cover up the issue instead of owning up to what happened or giving any details on how they are working to fix it. In turn, the problems for the company did not stop there. More controversy sparked up about the brand’s supposed terrible business practices in terms of how they treat their employees and some of their suppliers.

The problem was so publicized and widespread across social media that the brand was not able to recover at all. 

But how can it affect my business?

There are two ways you can let the Streisand Effect take a hold of your business: you either work with it or against it. In the case of Cookies by the Bucket, they worked against it and evidently, it is not the best way to handle similar situations. From  this example, you can find better ways to rectify the situation and learn how to turn this phenomenon to your favor. 

Take social media for example. There will be a point in time where an unsatisfied customer will post a negative comment on one of your social media pages. Some businesses would probably shy away from it, try to hide it and even pretend that the negative feedback is not there, essentially leading you back to the Streisand Effect. The more you hide it, the more something will become known. 

Additionally, failing to reply to your customers shows that you aren’t willing to help and this is not the message you want to be sending to them. In these instances, they will make your brand seem shady, and what your target market won’t see is the speed with which you reply to queries and the genuine care and effort you put into resolving problems they may face. 

You should never sweep things under the rug and cower away from the negativity. When you respond accordingly to any type of feedback, it adds that much needed human touch when you interact with your customers. It also allows you to clear your name and put your service in the spotlight. Oftentimes, addressing problems gives you the ability to share your side of the story. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning.

What can I do to avoid this?

While the downfall of Cookies by the Bucket is sad, leaving plenty of employees jobless especially during this pandemic, this goes to show the importance of not only applying ethical business practices but also proper public relations and crisis management. As much as possible, slip-ups like these should be completely avoided but when they do happen, you must hold yourself accountable and work to address them. 

While the gravity of the Streisand effect may be different depending on how big your business is or the issue you are facing, it is important to take small steps in your daily operations in order to avoid any mishaps that could greatly affect your business.

It is all about prevention and advanced thinking. By simply doing things such as addressing negative reviews of your products with great customer service or working to improve your business through feedback from your employees and customers, you most definitely will not have to deal with the Streisand effect because as they say: prevention is better than the cure.

Visual by: Rissa Kei Chua

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