The Curious Case of Paul Flart & How Companies Still Don’t Understand Social Media

Whether out of fear or ignorance, Social Media remains a missed opportunity for many companies. Too many employers, especially in Asia, continue to discourage or even punish employees for their social media activity. Why? 

Paul Flart: internet celebrity.

Meet Paul Flart. Artist. Renaissance Man. And now, the newest social media celebrity.

For six months, Flart recorded the audible passage of intestinal gas from his desk at a Florida hospital, where he worked as a security guard.

That’s right, Paul Flart recorded his farts on video. So naturally, he went viral.

Last week, in no small part due to his internet notoriety, “Flart” (his real name is Doug, though his last name remains unrevealed) was dismissed from his job by the security agency that employed him.

Cue the Streisand Effect and Flart is more famous than ever. His story has been told in prominent news outlets like, the Daily Mail and India Times, on top of all the local coverage. If anything, his story is now on its second wind. His official Instagram account has ballooned like a gas-filled intestinal tract to close to 75,000 followers.

Yes, this is an extreme case. But I want to focus on Flart’s story as an example of a company that reacted punitively towards an employee’s harmless (his videos never revealed his name nor the establishment where he worked) and well meaning (Flart had been actually relocated to a front desk position, presumably because of his warm, amiable personality, indicating that he was actually good at his job) social media activity.

Too often, companies’ HR policies towards social media are unnecessarily restrictive and inflexible. Here in Singapore, there continue to be companies where access to Twitter, Facebook and even LinkedIn are discouraged at the workplace, if not outright blocked. I have worked for employers who questioned why I or other colleagues frequently spoke at conferences or demonstrated unease when an employee’s public persona grew to prominence.

When I ask someone, “Why aren’t you more active on LinkedIn?” a very common response is, “If my boss saw me posting or editing my LinkedIn profile, or speaking at a conference, he will think I am looking for a new job.”

The irony is that most companies neglect some of the best possible advocates: their own employees. Yet by default, most brands prefer to look for advocacy outside: through advertising, celebrity endorsements or social media influencers.

Intuitively we all know employees make for the most enthusiastic and credible brand advocates. Just ask yourself how many times you bought a product on the recommendation of a friend who works the brand. Or the number of times you asked your friend to help you find a job at her company, just because she keeps talking about how much she loves it there.

Some companies do get it right. In Asia, for example, IBM mobilized more than 500 employees into social media brand champions.

At Mediacorp, where I worked from 2016 until early this year, we ushered in a programme where a different employee a week is given full control of the company’s official Twitter account. Even today, when I talk about this publicly, the response is usually one of surprise. “Really? Full control? No vetting? No screening? No approval process? No Corp Comms firewall?”

Imagine: a company that emboldens you to share your expertise on the industry on Twitter and LinkedIn. A company that supports your photography hobby or celebrates and encourages you to create your own fashion label on Instagram.

Your friends and industry colleagues would think, “Wow. That must be a cool place to work.”

Contact me to benefit from my experience in driving digital and cultural transformation at companies like Nokia, Singtel and Mediacorp. 

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