Flaunting wealth on social media has a negative impact on reputation

Many ultra-high-net-worth families have found that social media has inadvertently become part of their lives, but with it comes a myriad of reputational dangers unique to the high-net-worth community. According to our latest UHNWI Public Barometer, 25 per cent of the public said flaunting wealth online negatively affects what they think of them.

Private jet on runway

What are the risks, and how should families respond?

Private lives of UHNW families are firmly under the spotlight

Whether liked or disliked, UHNW families are already under the media spotlight. By accumulating a certain level of wealth, there will always be an element of media interest in their lives, and this stretches to the whole family not just the wealth creator or principal.

Using social media is opening a window into our personal lives, but for UHNWIs, this window is not just opened to loved ones, but to the wider public and the media too.

The primary reputational risk for UHNWIs is when they use social media to flaunt their wealth and lifestyle online for others to see.

Social media has blurred the line between personal and private; it is increasingly being used by the media as a primary source for stories, and this applies equally to the national and local press.

Of course, successful individuals are right to expect the same level of privacy as anyone else. However, as the nature of journalism has evolved, glossy, lifestyle and sensationalist stories about wealth and glamour make for a good story which will generate clicks for them.

Given that it is a journalist’s job to provide information on the people they write about, they will often illustrate their articles with pictures from social media.

A photograph of a luxury family holiday may seem harmless, posted with the best intentions, but it may be picked up by the media who perceive it to be a newsworthy story given their wealth and profile.

Reputational dangers of social media: a ripple effect

The risks of flaunting wealth and lifestyle on personal social media channels such as Instagram, Twitter or Facebook are far-reaching and can be long term.

According to our research, the primary reputational risk for UHNWIs is when they use social media to flaunt their wealth and lifestyle online for others to see. It’s this type of content which can attract unwanted attention, and there have been examples of many UHNW families posting content on Instagram which attracted column inches in the national newspapers.

Using these examples, flaunting wealth online can be pictures from a luxury wedding, a picture of any luxury assets such as a supercar, yacht or jet, or it could be a picture of an expensive family holiday.

Using social media is opening a window into our personal lives, but for UHNWIs, this window is not just opened to loved ones, but to the wider public and the media too.

It’s this type of content which poses risks to the UHNW community as it can not only lead to greater exposure, but also create issues for how a family is perceived by the public and other target constituencies. It could lead to them being perceived as flashy, gaudy or egotistical, which in many cases is unrepresentative and inaccurate.

As we live in the era of digital news, these types of unhelpful stories are online forever. The days of today’s news being tomorrow’s chip paper are over. News articles – good and bad – can sit on the first page of Google for a search of your name forever.

This means a negative story will still be read in six, 12, 24 months’ time when someone reactively searches your name online – be it a future investment partner, employee, an associate, banker or politician.

What should UHNW families do?

For many families, but certainly not all, social media use is a choice not a necessity, and many would not want, or in fact need, to delete all their accounts, even knowing the dangers.

However, these risks can be prevented by considering their social media profiles under their overall family communications strategy.

Families should:

Many successful families do not consider the risks of social media early enough or fall into the trap of thinking they are not people of any interest. Often, they don’t see the immediate risks, but these risks can become greater if they are suddenly thrown into the spotlight for something else such as a family crisis, business issue or selling the family business.

If families act now, they can insure themselves against future risks.

Transmission Private publishes a monthly newsletter that tracks the future of reputation management for private clients.

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Transmission Private publishes a monthly newsletter that tracks the future of reputation management for private clients.