The old adage goes, “Do something good for someone and they’ll tell 10 people. Do something bad to someone and they’ll tell 100 people.”

The good old days meant you could be human and mess up and not that many people would know. Those days are gone! Today when you mess up, there’s a potential worldwide audience who can have full access to your falling on your face.

Don’t believe me?

How many scandals and falls from grace have you learned about in the news and social media over the last few years?

I know for a fact that you don’t have to be a news junkie or, worse yet, a fan of shows like “Dateline” (and the proliferation of similar type shows) to see the fallout from lives shattered by being put on display. Things go viral well before the truth is discovered or even pursued. It’s like the speed of so many viral cat videos that get forwarded everywhere and to everyone via emails, texts, social networking sites and more.

Many of the smartest people in the contracting industry have been ensnared in the court of public opinion. We’re not perfect, but since there is no privacy anymore, we’re not allowed to fall down, stumble, dust ourselves off and get up as easily as we once did. That’s because  anyone and everyone has a cell phone at the ready to record videos that with just a few clicks can be posted to YouTube or Facebook.

It can be a product of an innocent thing with no thought to the long-term ramifications. For the social media world though, it can feed audiences’ secret desire to see the rich and famous have their day of reckoning. Or, the scenario of the contractor who they feel is only there to rip them off.

It’s shameful, but very human. I know most in this industry are not likely to be the awful people that consumers feel all contractors are. But, when you go to the checkout counter at the supermarket, don’t you glance over at the magazines with their screaming headlines? I’m pretty sure we all do, whether or not we want to admit it.

The sad truth is we tend to be OK with people who have ascended to a position of power, wealth and popularity being torn down. Actors, athletes, politicians and rich people in general being dragged through the mud and publicly humiliated or even ruined is somewhat satisfying to us mere mortals. It’s become a nice replacement for the wearing of the red letter “A”, the stockade and public flogging in the square of yesteryear.

All that is needed to feed the frenzy are the not-so-secret emails and texts that leave a solid, indelible trail for those intent on getting to the bottom of things. There is a desire for “Gotcha” people to make it a reality. The bigger question and reality check for business owners is: What do we choose to legislate, what do we let pass and how do we do it?

The answer is very complicated. That’s because what two consensual adults do behind closed doors used to be off limits and, in my opinion, should stay that way. It also used to be that what people did about interpersonal relationships in an office setting that didn’t affect their work was rarely trotted out for public display, let alone discipline. After all, this is America and there are inalienable rights.

But as recent cases in the media have shown, there are ramifications for misbehavior and even incredibly bad taste that ends up reflecting badly not just on the employee, but on the company itself. And once it’s egregious enough and has enraged the ire of the public, bad behavior can and should force the hand of a business owner.

To be clear, I’m not a fan of trying to legislate too much personal behavior unless it directly affects the business. Which is why I advocate there be some clear boundaries about what is and what is not acceptable behavior. But most of what I’ve preached for years was related to behavior at work or behavior when not at work that could affect job performance. Things like having an ongoing drug and alcohol policy is a good example of both at work and not-at-work behavior.

The scary thing today is people can do such disrespectful or outrageously bad things that challenge social norms, which can cause customer alienation resulting in turmoil at your company. No one can escape the pressure from unrelenting out-of-control bad publicity. Trying to deal with it after the incident has happened may leave you powerless, which is bad for all since as a good leader, you have failed to keep your own people on a good path for their own sake.

If you agree that this is better addressed before there is an issue than trying to deal with it after an incident, you need to sit with a human resources company or labor lawyer now. You will need to brainstorm with them about the various types of behavior scenarios that can occur. You need to address what role, if any, can social media have in applying discipline for objective bad behavior.

If you really want to get ahead of the curve on this, you will be wise to work with trusted advisors on what role social media and bad behavior have when it comes to your recruiting, hiring and retaining process.