Dillon Hill | Crain's Sacramento

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Dillon Hill

Background:  

Gamers Gift is a nonprofit organization that uses video games and other electronic media to alleviate psychological stress caused by prolonged hospital stays, loneliness, poverty or other unfortunate circumstances. Dillon Hill launched the nonprofit when he was 17.

The Mistake:

My generation is all about social media; it’s all about publishing what you’re doing. But sometimes, you need to be careful about how you present things to the world, especially online. When we started our nonprofit, we wanted to show the type of good we could bring to people. We decided that a children’s hospital would be the perfect place to start.

We called every one in the area, multiple times, trying to get them to let us come to their hospital and demonstrate our program. Eventually, the director at one children’s hospital agreed to let us visit, but there were a number of conditions we had to agree to meet, including not taking any photos. We didn’t see any problem, so we readily agreed.

We were thrilled. We went to the hospital with our equipment – at the time, we only had a series of video games – and we visited these children who were not your typical kids. They were in a situation that was far from that of the average child. So, we simply sat down with them and played the games. It was great for all of us to just be kids together.

We ended up with a lot of thank yous, and a number of small mementos – mostly stickers – from our visits. We made a video telling the public that we were available to come to any children’s hospitals in the area and do the same as at this one location, and we posted the video online.

A few days later, I got a phone call from the director. The person had seen the video and noticed we had included the hospital’s logo without permission. The director didn’t pursue legal action, but did inform us that we were no longer allowed to go there because we had violated their trust.

I was crushed. I couldn’t even bring myself to talk to the person on the phone after that. To this day, even though we have since become better known, we are not allowed back at that hospital. We hadn’t intended to break any promises – all we wanted to do was demonstrate that we were an organization that was trying to do some good for people. But it was all messed up from a silly mistake in our public explanation.

It all comes down to understanding how social media really works. You have to be careful with what you put out there, because good or bad, it never truly goes away.

The Lesson:

We’ve all heard horror stories about people who post things on the internet that they shouldn’t have, that come back to haunt them later. I never thought such a story would apply to an organization with good intentions.

In this case, we pulled the video immediately, but it’s still up there if you have a direct link to it.

We watch our videos now very carefully before they go public, to make sure there is nothing wrong. We also carefully consider the information that comes our way, as we’ve found that there are times it’s better to say nothing at all rather than make a mistake that can hurt your image.

It all comes down to understanding how social media really works. You have to be careful with what you put out there, because good or bad, it never truly goes away.

Follow Gamers Gift on Twitter at @Gamers_Gift.

Photo courtesy of Dillon Hill.

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