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Where the Streets Have Names: Learning from Bono’s Facebook Dilemma


What happens in the real world can usually end up on the Web for all to discover, share, and assess with or without your knowledge.

According to The Mail, even Sir Bono, lead singer of U2, couldn’t escape the global distribution and network effect of Facebook.

The rock star, humanitarian, and family man inadvertently shared a portion of his St. Tropez holiday, courtesy of a 19-year old and her Facebook profile.

Jane Smith (name changed for purposes of this article), an America fashion student who’s currently studying in Paris, vacationed in St. Tropez with her friend Hannah Emerson.


But, when she shared updates and pictures on Facebook, the world noticed.

The first update set the stage, “So Bono and Simon called me yesterday and they arrived in Cannes today, so looks like we’ll have a plan! :)”

Smith also uploaded a few pictures to Facebook, which depending on how you interpret them, either lay to rest any inappropriate thoughts and unsubstantiated speculation or they sent your imagination running rampant.

Bono, Jane Smith, Hanna Emerson, Simon Carmody

Hanna Emerson, Bono, Jane Smith

Aboard the yacht owned by bandmate The Edge, Jane wears Bono’s trademark cap

In all fairness, Smith contacted The Mail to clarify the circumstances of their brief adventure. According to her statement, she has known Bono for a few years (going back to when she was 15 or 16?) but stressed that their friendship is purely innocent.

But that’s the point of all of this. Everything is open to interpretation. And when you publicly share information, you unwittingly invite everyone to dissect your actions, content, thoughts, and words.

What you share online lends to the perception of you, your intentions, and your persona. Nowadays, your reputation indeed precedes you.

Bono, who is usually meticulous in how he manages his personal brand, strategically shrouding it with selflessness, passion, vision, mystery, and a bigger-than-life conviction for positive global change, potentially underestimated or simply didn’t understand how Social Media has re-architected the rapid distribution of information and content.

Perhaps in Jane’s case, this public story and the residual online beacons that fueled it, will only boost her social capital – however, they will remain on the Web for years to come.

In Bono’s case, I have to believe that this doesn’t lend well to his philanthropic efforts. In the Rock and Roll world, however, this may have a very different effect.

But, Bono shouldn’t be surprised at the swift distribution, reach and resonating volume of the Social Web. While at one of his homes, he was playing (or blasting) four tracks from U2’s forthcoming album, “No Line on the Horizon.” Supposedly the tunes were played a bit too loudly, as a passerby was able to record the four songs, albeit in low quality, and release what was believed to be “Sexy Boots,” “Moment Of Surrender,” and “For Your Love” on YouTube.

While the tracks were removed, it demonstrates the need to rethink our actions in the real world as they can have unpredictable, or highly calculated, online implications.

Social Media will only continue to fuse and interlace our online and real world presences. The effect is profound.

According to Kevin Donline of The Star Tribune Minneapolis, “Seventy-seven percent of recruiters report using search engines to find background data on candidates. Of that number, 35 percent eliminated a candidate because of what they found online.”

To further demonstrate how your online presence contributes to how people perceive you, education company Kaplan, a unit of Washington Post Co.,surveyed 500 top colleges. The study found that 10% of admissions officers acknowledged researching social network profiles to evaluate applicants. 38% of the colleges that factor information gathered from the social web revealed that their findings “negatively affected” their views of the applicant, with several admissions officers rejecting students because of the publicly shared content.

Your personal brand is yours to define, cultivate, nurture, and craft. Ignorance is not bliss. Everything you post and share on the web collectively contributes to an online persona that is readily discoverable through search engines and in turn, open to interpretation.

It’s the curation of all of our disparate pieces (social objects) online that collectively paint a picture of who we are, what we represent, as well as our strengths and weaknesses.

Perception is reality.

For a deeper look at the Social Web and its impact on your online persona, please read:

The Socialization of Your Personal Brand- Part I
The Socialization of Your Personal Brand- Part II
The Socialization of Your Personal Brand- Part III

Crisis Communications 2.0 Series:
Nike, Just Do It: When a Local Story Runs Away on the Web
Apple and the iPhone Price Bomb
The Skype is Falling
Microsoft PR Sparks a Blogstorm

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27 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Where the Streets Have Names: Learning from Bono’s Facebook Dilemma”

  1. Stephen Davies says:

    Great analysis, Brian. In this day and age we just have to assume that anything we do can be distributed to a global audience in minutes.

  2. gregory says:

    nice blog design, and a nice middle school lecture ..

  3. adrian chan says:


    Those pics on Fbook put Bono in an interesting situation — I wonder if he had, and it’s hard to imagine this, which says something about celebs and social media, but i wonder if he had responded directly on Fbook. Posted to her pics, commented in such a manner as to defuse the suggestiveness of the pics? To clarify their relationship?

    The pics themselves are pretty harmless, and I don’t think anybody would be shocked to learn that he’s got some young and cute fans on his hands occasionally (note the phrasing)… He can’t ask for the pics to be removed tho, can he? That would spark a backlash and do more harm than good. In fact the pics might even boost his rep in some quarters.

    What would you recommend?


  4. Larissa Fair says:

    Hi Brian – nice post. I wonder if Bono and that girl are still friends NOW? Ha. Really surprising that someone so young didn’t understand potential repercussions of posting those pics. Some people think that Facebook has a real friend filter, and only your personal contacts will see what you post… people will learn…

    BTW – I’ll be in SF mid-Nov. Hope to see you!

    – Larissa

  5. Greg Rollett says:

    In Bono’s case, how are these photos any different from ones that he may take at a show with a provocatively dressed female backstage, who won tickets from the radio station?

    As long as Bono continues to maintain the personal brand he has worked so hard to establish, this will blow by the wind and be forgotten.

    Sometimes, I think we, myself included, blow things out of context when over analyzing situations. The way that someone like Bono handles the situation weighs more heavily in my book.

    You also mentioned personal branding for job seekers and college admissions. I think this is the larger issue, as it affects lives and futures. Teaching young, Gen-Y individuals the value of a personal brand is much higher in terms of importance than 2 cute girls hanging with Bono. If kids are losing scholarships and jobs because of photos, videos and blogs, then we have a big problem on our hands. It is up to the leaders of Social Media to teach this aspect of the business just as heavily as we teach companies how to react when a mommy blogger attacks them.

  6. gregory says:

    solis didn’t put up my post but i get the updates anyway? cool guy

  7. Brian Solis says:

    @Stephen Davies, thank you. I think the story simply serves as a conversation starter to get everyone, from students to professionals, to think about how what they share on the web links back to them and ultimately contributes to their online reputation.

    @gregory, thanks for stopping by. obviously middle schools aren’t prepping students for the social web, so taking a story like this as a way of introducing a positive conversation seems like a good idea.

    @adrian, interesting perspective. if anything, this story served as a segue to the more important discussion about students and professionals and how facebook, myspace and other social networks are reviewed prior to an in-person meeting. For Bono, the pictures are harmless and I’m pretty sure he’s moved on – if he even heard about this at all. 🙂

    @larissa fair, good to hear from you! perhaps she did realize what it meant and used it as an opp to boost her social capital…? See you in Nov!

    @greg rollett, I agree…The Mail indeed is guilty of blowing it out of the water as well as the other tabloids who used it as an opp to sell sensationalism. Here, we used it as an opp to introduce how social networks are representations of who we are and what we stand for, whether we know it or not, and therefore we should start to rethink what we share and what we portray online. Good thoughts!

    @gregory, you have to give me a bit of leeway while I’m on the road. moderation from an iphone isn’t streamlined. 🙂

  8. Anonymous says:

    Good stuff!

  9. Jennifer says:


    This post has started a number of thought threads for me, which is interesting because my first reaction was “yes, another reminder.” But, this goes a bit deeper, especially the idea that students/perspective hires are being pre-screened and rejected based on their online profiles. In some industries, discretion is highly valued. This could help make sure employer/employee are a good fit from earlier on.

    I am concerned about the personal privacy implications, however. I have a far different “sharing” threshold than others, and it bothers me to no end that no matter how careful I am with my own pictures and information, that can be shot to heck by someone else–quite possibly someone I barely know. The implications of that are quite troubling, I think.


  10. Michael Chin says:

    He’s a rockstar. This is a very rockstar thing to do isn’t it? 😉

  11. Anonymous says:

    Could this be considered part of a new wave public-generated paparazzi? Look out TMZ.

  12. GeekMommy says:

    Great assessment as usual Brian!

    At some point, we, as a society are going to have to accept that we have a ‘permanent record’ now… and that everything and anything we say or do may be subject to public scrutiny on the internet.

    It’s a new world.

  13. Andre says:

    very interesting article. One questoin that is on my mind though. Doy you or the daily mail have authorisation to post those pictures? How does copyright work on facebook or does all that is posted on facebook open for reprint?

  14. Anonymous says:

    Think he’s got more to worry about in his new ‘branding’ as a ruthless property developer in Dublin, defacing listed Art Deco buildings (Clarence Hotel) and seeking planning permission to replace the roof of his 18th Century home in Dalkey (listed building)with a tacky glass and steel ‘party’ penthouse.

  15. Albert Kaufman says:

    everyone seems to be stressing the negative aspects of putting yourself out there. wouldn’t it be cool if we all put our real selves out there and moved the bar forward a bit to who we really are instead of just placating the status quo and watching our asses? publishing what we actually do, how much money we have, how much sex we have, what kind of sex we have. i’d much rather live in a transparent society, wouldn’t you? do we have to give in to the puritans for the rest of our lives, for the future of our planet? wouldn’t it be more fun and interesting to go forward with a bit of innocence and take the consequences, and create a more interesting society. if I wanted my facebook site to look like my resume, why bother? let’s get freaky, people. keep the internet weird! albertkaufman, portland, oregon

    • Jennifer says:

      “wouldn't it be cool if we all put our real selves out there and moved the bar forward a bit to who we really are instead of just placating the status quo and watching our asses? publishing what we actually do, how much money we have, how much sex we have, what kind of sex we have. i'd much rather live in a transparent society, wouldn't you? “

      I'd much rather live in a society where voyeurs like you don't get to know intimate details about me like how much sex I have or don't have.

  16. Vicki says:

    Two things come to mind.

    1. Those photos are so obviously staged I can’t imagine Bono, Simon, or anyone being surprised by them or “put in an ‘interesting’ situation.” Those aren’t candid shots. And someone was behind that camera.

    2. Recently, we were discussing “on line brand” with a 20-something friend of our. She made this comment:

    Now, perhaps things are a bit touchy, when a prospective employer or recruiter can pull up a facebook picture and reject someone out of hand. But give it 5 or 10 years. Then the prospective employee will be doing the exact same thing (if they aren’t already). When most of “use” are discoverable on line, te playing field will be much more level. (My boss did _what_ over the weekend? Maybe what happens on the weekend needs to stay out of the office…)

  17. R. Patel says:

    Yeah, well..anything can spread in a matter of minutes over this interwebnet thing.

  18. Guest says:

    I have listened to U2 for years, and to see Bono with Children in that manner,  shame on  you Bono. My ancestors came for Ireland. I just hope that you didn’t go any further than the photos. You are suppose to be more responsible  than that. My feelings are hurt. You guys were my heros in the 80’s  I think that you should find a way to my a change. Animals and our children have a very place in my heart. B from Roundo, SC >:o

  19. boulderanalytics says:

    Oh, Bono

  20. Jennifer says:

    “wouldn't it be cool if we all put our real selves out there and moved the bar forward a bit to who we really are instead of just placating the status quo and watching our asses? publishing what we actually do, how much money we have, how much sex we have, what kind of sex we have. i'd much rather live in a transparent society, wouldn't you? “

    I'd much rather live in a society where voyeurs like you don't get to know intimate details about me like how much sex I have or don't have.

  21. metal wall says:

    I conceive this site holds some real excellent information for
    everyone :D.

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