You know the story…New York Representative Anthony Weiner was accused of sending lewd photos and having inappropriate contact with various young women via social networking sites, he denied it, and days later tearfully admitted to the wrongdoings. All promiscuity discussion aside, here are three lessons PR and public affairs pros can learn from “Weinergate.”
1. In the Digital Age, there’s no such thing as a “secret.” We live in a world where transparency is king. (And Julian Assange is the public face of transparency). For the general public, this may be good a thing — we are given access to information that was previously tightly controlled. However, for politicians and other public figures, this means that everything they do is being watched and recorded…and will likely go viral in a second. Rep. Weiner — did you learn nothing from former Senator George Allen?
Lesson #1: expect for the public to constantly watch your every move, and therefore be upfront and honest about your actions.
2. With social media, there’s not yet a clear code of conduct…but “Weinergate” is certainly not an example of superior online behavior. According to the New York Times, Rep. Weiner was one of Congress’s “most enthusiastic” social media users, using Facebook and Twitter to connect and engage with his constituents and supporters. However, whoever was helping him manage his social media accounts should have warned him that sending racy photos of himself via Twitter was not going to gain him any more supporters. Public figures must be on social media if they are truly interested in connecting with the public, but they also have a responsibility to act in the public interest. (And I would venture to say the majority of the public is not interested in seeing the gray boxers of a U.S. Congressman.)
Lesson #2: Don’t be afraid of social media — it’s a great way to engage and connect. Educate your employees on how to use it responsibility and the consequences of irresponsible use. (This Washington Post reporter gives great suggestions how to do so.)
3. It’s time to redefine the exclusive power of the “mainstream media” and “journalists” (finally). We traditionally thought of journalists as old, white men with a pencil in one hand and a spiral reporter’s notebook in the other. (Okay, maybe that’s an antiquated definition of “journalist” but you get the picture.) They got “the scoop” and delivered it to us via the the mainstream media. If you weren’t part of a major media conglomerate, you didn’t have a voice. Well, Andrew Breitbart certainly has a voice, and all he has is a laptop, a wireless connection, and an unbridled hatred of anything left-winged. Breitbart broke the story and left mainstream outlets scrambling for a piece of his findings (after first questioning his credibility). It all began in 1998 when the Drudge Report uncovered the Lewinsky Scandal, and the news process has been forever changed.
Lesson #3: In the Digital Age, everyone has a voice, and every voice matters. Know what people are saying about you and your brand online because it just may end up as the leading headline on the 6 o’clock news. (Or more than likely, it’ll be trending on Twitter, because who really watches the evening news anyways?)