If there is one big takeaway from the Manti Te’o saga, it’s that the nature of relationships has changed drastically. The Notre Dame football player’s publicity nightmare has highlighted what technology has done for relationships. In many ways, it’s a beautiful thing. It’s easier to communicate now more than ever. Still for brands, public figures and even the regular Joes and Janes of the world, maintaining a relationship online is a delicate balance. Yes, everyone wants to put his or her best faces forward. But, we’ve learned again and again that nothing is better, especially in the marketing realm, than transparency.
Here are four lessons from the Manti Te’o fiasco that can serve as fresh reminders for marketers:
1. If you lie, you will get caught. While the fictitious girlfriend may have lived a fulfilling (fake) life on social media, her existence was eventually debunked. In today’s digital age, it’s increasingly hard to get away with lying. It’s worth noting that this is not the first high-profile fake online persona. In 2006 lonelygirl15 blazed this trail. She published a blog discussing everyday life and even responded to her fans through a MySpace account. It became evident that this “blogger” was an actress and she was outed after a few months. There have been plenty of poor social media attempts by brands to, well, make themselves look more popular than they are. And there was even a batch of fake movie reviews compliments of Sony. (But, really, no one could make us believe “The Animal” was capable of getting a good review.) So whether it is duping your friends, consumers or the media, you’ll get caught and the aftermath will be embarrassing.
2. Think through your PR stunts. The media is a powerful tool for raising awareness and speaking to an enormous audience. Manti Te’o’s story was tailor-made for coverage. But, the press giveth and taketh away. Yes, he’s still in spotlight today with his interview with Katie Couric, but for all the wrong reasons. Brands make this mistake too. ConAgra tried to pull a fast one on the press by pretending it was serving a big, fancy meal, when in fact it was Three Meat and Four Cheese Lasagna by Marie Callender’s. The media was not amused.
3. Shape the story before it shapes you. So, you got caught. Here’s what not to do: According to reports, Manti Te’o had known his relationship was a hoax since December. It wasn’t until sports site Deadspin reported the news on Jan. 16 did it become public. Notre Dame conducted its own investigation and cleared him before the story broke. Why then, didn’t the university come out in front of the story? Precious days were lost, and in the meantime, the 21-year-old became the butt of every joke on late-night television, painting him as a fool. The lesson: Respond to the story while it’s still a low hum, before it becomes a loud roar. Because it will. Also, communicate to the right audience. For example, if a PR crisis begins on Twitter, address it on Twitter. Responding via the radio, TV, etc., doesn’t speak to the people who need to hear your message.
4. Be real. Authenticity creates loyalty. Being true to your brand and your audience goes a long way. Think of brands like Patagonia, which is clearly communicating its impact on the planet. Whole Foods
undefined touts itself as America’s healthiest grocery store. These brands communicate directly to their consumers in way that it humanly relevant to them. No smoke and mirrors; just transparency. Zappos has built its company and its reputation on its openness, and customers have responded with their dollars and their loyalty. In addition, JetBlue, which definitely knows what a PR disaster looks like, has learned the power of being open. Its head marketer,Marty St. George, has earned many fans for his proactive use of Twitter. And the list goes on …
So as the details of Manti Te’o and his fake girlfriend continue to have us shaking our heads, it also give us chances to reflect on what not to do.
Additional reporting by Kenneth Hein.