A Lesson From Netflix and Reed Hastings in Communication

For nearly 10 years, KnowEm has been helping people and brands protect themselves online from misuse of their names and trademarks. This is something that we are extremely proud of. Some clients have found themselves entangled in conflict that led them to using our services with a desired result of reclaiming and rehabilitating their reputations.

Given the current climate of the world and social media landscape it is more important than ever to choose your words wisely, both in public and in private. When a potentially dangerous situation arises, brands and those involved need to be very careful in their approaches in communication.

Jonathan Friedland, a senior spokesperson formerly employed by Netflix, was recently fired for his repeated use of racial slurs in meetings. Many were left to wonder why no action was taken after the first use of such vulgar language. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, was put in a position where he needed to explain this. He wrote a memo for internal use at Netflix, which was released publicly.

A message in such a situation needs to be effective, but how do you craft such a response? No matter the platform, there are some qualities that are necessary. The message should be clear, contrite, empathetic and show a level of sincerity that accepts responsibility without deflecting or shifting the blame elsewhere.  Hastings wrote:

I’ve made a decision to let go of Jonathan Friedland. Jonathan contributed greatly in many areas, but his descriptive use of the N-word on at least two occasions at work showed unacceptably low racial awareness and sensitivity, and is not in line with our values as a company.

Here, Hastings comes right out with the explanation, he does not try to hide or cover it up.  Hastings has made it abundantly clear that the use of racial slurs will not be tolerated at Netflix. He continues:

The first incident was several months ago in a PR meeting about sensitive words. Several people afterwards told him how inappropriate and hurtful his use of the N-word was, and Jonathan apologised to those that had been in the meeting. We hoped this was an awful anomaly never to be repeated.

Three months later he spoke to a meeting of our Black Employees @ Netflix group and did not bring it up, which was understood by many in the meeting to mean he didn’t care and didn’t accept accountability for his words.

The second incident, which I only heard about this week, was a few days after the first incident; this time Jonathan said the N-word again to two of our Black employees in HR who were trying to help him deal with the original offense. The second incident confirmed a deep lack of understanding, and convinced me to let Jonathan go now.

In these paragraphs he admitted that he had exercised poor judgment in the past in regards to this now fired employee and his repeated use of racial slurs. Taking ownership of his flaws is crucial in the development of an effective statement. Hastings goes on to say:

As I reflect on this, at this first incident, I should have done more to use it as a learning moment for everyone at Netflix about how painful and ugly that word is, and that it should not be used. I realize that my privilege has made me intellectualize or otherwise minimize race issues like this. I need to set a better example by learning and listening more so I can be the leader we need.

Reed Hastings sees where he failed. He realizes he must change, improve and grow as a person and as someone in charge of a large company. Will Friedland learn from the situation? Maybe, maybe not but that is not for Hastings to comment on. It seems apparent that Hastings has learned and wants to be better and provide a safer environment for all of the employees under his watch as CEO of Netflix.

In the world of social media it is of the utmost importance that you always be genuine. Even in hard times, honesty is often appreciated. Own your mistakes, explain how you plan to prevent such events from occurring again and you may be able to get public opinion back on your side.


branding, netflix, Online Reputation Management, Social Media


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A Lesson From Netflix and Reed Hastings in Commun…

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