Social media can feel like the Wild West at times: lawless and tough, but ripe with opportunity.

And for brands trying to make connections with consumers, social media can be all those things, offering a chance to make connections with consumers and promote product more often and on a more personal level.

But, with great reward comes great risk, and online mistakes can face quick and painful public backlash, just like in the Old West.

One of the most painful missteps I have seen recently played out on TikTok, a social network with 850 million active users that allows people to shoot less-than-60-second videos, edit them, add music and effects, and post them on an endless video feed.

In a move that actor and comedian Paul F. Tompkins called “hilariously stupid,” paint and coating brand and retailer Sherwin-Williams fired Ohio University senior and TikTok star Tony Piloseno. Piloseno was a senior sales associate who had gone viral on TikTok for making paint-mixing videos at his job, and he was fired after the company discovered his popular channel, @tonesterpaints.

TikTok, Sherwin-WilliamsCiting “gross misconduct” as the reason, Sherwin-Williams said Piloseno was “wasting properties (and) facilities” and “seriously embarrass(ing) the company or its products,” according to a video from the ex-employee and a report from Buzzfeed News.

And while Piloseno admits to having made his videos at work and videoing paints he mixed for customers before purchasing his own supplies a month or so into making videos, I tend to agree with Twitter and the general public: The decision to fire Piloseno was “hilariously stupid,” especially sincer Piloseno actually pitched his videos to the company’s marketing department.

According to Piloseno, he created a full pitch deck “to show the company how TikTok has a younger base” and emailed a marketing director with the company “about two or three times” before that director “basically told me there wasn’t really any promotions going on so there wasn’t a need to see the presentation.”

With Pilseno’s firing, Sherwin-Williams lost a valuable and basically free marketing tool and the support of thousands of his viewers. Now, the TikTok video on Pilseno’s firing has racked up nearly 8 million likes, and his story has garnered dozens of news articles and trended on other social sites like Twitter.

To add to Sherwin-Williams’ misstep, Piloseno has been scooped up by smaller rival, Florida Paints, which gave him studio where he can continue making his popular paint-mixing videos, a fact that is being applauded across the Internet.

TikTok blog, Cold StoneCold Stone Creamery offered a completely opposite corporate reaction.

At the national ice cream parlor chain, longtime store manager Dylan Lemay, @DJLemay on TikTok, has been given the greenlight to produce his cake and ice cream making videos at his Springfield, Mo., location for his more than 7 million followers, and the brand is reaping the benefits.

Millions are delighted by the videos, writing in comments that they ordered the cake he made at their store because they watched him make it, and others comment that they went to Cold Stone to buy ice cream for the first time in years because of the videos. At Lemay’s store alone, dozens of orders come into the shop every month just because people want him to make the order on camera.

And while equating an uptick in ice cream orders to the success of the Sherwin-Williams brand and its marketing team may seem like a bit of a stretch, I think these two stories hold a larger lesson for all companies: Give your employees, and social media, a chance.

Organic impressions and interactions at the numbers experienced by Piloseno and Lemay are not the norm for most online content creators, let alone businesses that shell out big advertising bucks every year to try to gain followings like these.

Listen to your employees’ ideas, support their growth, be open to new social media platforms, and remember that people are every company’s most important asset.

Sherwin-Williams multi-million dollar yearly ad budget hasn’t gotten it anywhere near a million followers on any platform online, but Piloseno did, and the company let that go.

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