In 2003 a photographer was capturing images of erosion and environmental violations in Malibu, CA when he inadvertently took photos of singer/actress Barbra Streisand’s home. While posting 12,000 photos online, one of them contained the image of the diva’s Malibu mansion. In an effort to protect her privacy, she sued the photographer to take down the photo. At the time the suit was filed the photo of her home had been viewed just six times. After word of the lawsuit got out more than 420,000 people saw the photo of her home. So much for privacy.

Streisand_Estate

You are the 420,001st viewer.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This phenomenon of unexpected publicity is now referred to as the Streisand Effect. As Wikipedia explains: “The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.

Just last week I noticed the Streisand Effect in full force while reading about sales generated by the controversial Rolling Stones magazine which featured Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover. While many stores and people boycotted the issue, all the hoopla surrounding the magazine and its questionable antics more than DOUBLED their sales. I’m sure CVS and Walgreens didn’t expect that outcome.

Not only can the Streisand Effect have a profound effect on business, it can also seep into the world of managing employees. Picture this: you have an employee who has put in extra hours on evenings and weekends, forfeiting time with their family to close a big deal with an important customer. You’d like to reward him with a small token of appreciation, so you grab a $50 gift card to a barbecue place your own family enjoys.

WildWestBBQ_sign,_HS

Source: Xnatedawgx, via Creative Commons

However, your employee is a vegetarian and the restaurant you’ve chosen caters to carnivores. Your misguided attempt at recognition has now backfired, and your employee feels that you are out-of-touch with something that you should have remembered since you frequently grab lunch together. He’s now annoyed at your gesture and all of the extra hours he put in at the office. So much for your attempt at recognition.

Whether you’re struggling with employee recognition or you’re avoiding an awkward quality conversation with a customer, take a lesson from Streisand and remember that the best course of action is to be engaged, honest and up-front. But most important, to “know” – really know – your employee or customer, to understand their needs and be their strongest advocate.

I’d love to hear from you … have you seen the Streisand Effect first-hand?