How social media has impacted crisis management: A Bill Cosby and Jared Fogle case study
One of the basic services we offer as a public relations agency is social media monitoring. For digital natives, this is a no brainer; the speed of information is now faster than word of mouth and sometimes comes with a hashtag, to boot. By monitoring clients’ social media mentions we stay on top of the public’s opinion of them and are able to react quickly in cases of crises. This isn’t Don Draper’s ad/PR world anymore. Information is spread—and judgments are made—faster than ever before.
Looking for an example of just how fast the online court of public opinion rules in 2015? Look no further than your current celebrity scandals. Bill Cosby, long-time comedian and star of The Cosby Show, and Jared “Subway Guy” Fogle are both receiving a lot of media attention for allegations of sexual misconduct. Though no judicial court has ruled in either case, as the media continues to scrutinize these “developing” stories the companies affiliated with the accused/incriminated have scurried to distance themselves from Cosby and Fogle. Disney has now removed the statue of Bill Cosby from Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Fla. Fogle didn’t even last more than a week as “the face of Subway” after allegations surfaced. This is a good reputation management move by both organizations, which obviously don’t condone the alleged behavior.
The difference in these two cases is in the timing. Subway dropped Fogle nearly as soon as he was implicated in a scandal, yet Cosby has maintained his fame and reputation as one of “America’s dads” despite rumors of sexual assault going back more than 40 years.
Why now for the Cosby media coverage and company distancing? Differences in allegations aside, one could argue that the rise in attention of Cosby’s misdeeds has a direct correlation with the rise and accessibility of social media and the media focus on reader engagement and website traffic to obtain advertisers. In this way, a media blitz can have a huge influence the reputations and actions of companies.
In our current media landscape, there’s competition on who will break a story first, and oftentimes the facts haven’t even been gathered before the first headline pops on social media. Actors, actresses, athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs and other prominent figures are covered nationally almost immediately if anything questionable takes place. Why? These figures are prominent, and they generate buzz. It doesn’t matter if comments are positive or negative, if people are talking about these things and visiting news sites to engage in debate and conversations, that’s a plus for site advertisers.
We’re increasingly seeing media outlets cater to what readers want to know rather than what they need to know. It makes sense in the digital age when charging readers for content is tricky and the reliance on advertisers is high. In the case of Fogle and Subway, the company got gone when the going got tough to keep its brand untarnished and remain respectable in the eyes of readers. Did the brands affiliated with Cosby stick with him because they were unaware of the allegations against him, or because not enough other consumers were aware? Regardless, it’s a lesson for crisis communication management: know your affiliates, know your media and know your brand’s values and reputation.