George Zimmerman: A Rep Management Case Study
No one would ever want to be in George Zimmerman’s position: a controversial target in the volatile debate of American race relations. Of all the lessons society can take from the case of Trayvon Martin, disaster response and reputation management sit at the bottom of the list. Still, for marketers Zimmerman’s defense team’s efforts to control the online conversation are worth a closer look.
This morning we learned that the defense team had set up a website, Facebook page and Twitter account. Zimmerman’s attorney Mark O’Mara explains his decision to establish an official social media presence:
“We feel it would be irresponsible to ignore the robust online conversation, and we feel equally as strong about establishing a professional, responsible, and ethical approach to new media.”
The Internet has proven time and again a powerful platform for influencing public opinion, which the defense team is wisely engaging. Previously, $200,000 had been raised for Zimmerman’s legal defense through online donations. Three websites were responsible for garnering those donations, and the one administered by Zimmerman himself was shuttered by the legal team in favor of the attorney-controlled gzlegalcase.com.
While court cases set precedent for interpretation of the law, Zimmerman’s defense is setting a precedent for communicating in the new-media world. In the top right-corner of the site, a link to a page the lays out the legal group’s reasoning for a social media presence. The major points on why an Internet presence is prudent for Zimmerman’s defense:
- Eliminating fraudulent websites and social profiles
- Disputing misinformation
- Discouraging speculation
- Acknowledging the larger significance of the case
- Providing a forum for communication with the law firm
In other words, all the textbook social media advantages we preach to clients. Have a major input on the conversation, and bring the conversation to your own channels so you can moderate the discussion. You can’t curtail the discussion happening elsewhere on the web, but you must at least create a platform for addressing criticism and be proactive in stamping out imposters with malintent.
The O’Mara Law Group has designed a simple and efficient social media strategy accounting for the popular use and strength of each channel to establish a unified message and presence. The individual parts can be described as follows:
Website and blog: The primary hub for the group’s Internet presence, the website contains a blog through which the team can address the public. The site points to press releases the team has published, the official Facebook page and lists recent Twitter updates with a displayed feed.
Press releases: Controversy has arisen not only from the circumstances of the case but also from the aftermath. Press releases accomplish the one-sided message delivery to traditional media outlets, effective for both proactive and reactive communications.
Facebook and Twitter: For communication that embraces the participatory nature of new media, Facebook and Twitter are the most popular networks where people are already talking. Not having an official presence where you’re being talked about would be negligent. On the Facebook page, the team addresses their policy on comment moderation, shares links to conversation starters on the GZ legal case blog, and prompts discussions with questions that tie into the larger dialogue with links to third-party sources like Routers. With Twitter’s microblogging format, the team is linking to news coverage of the hearing and addressing Twitter users’ questions. As a result of this kind of promotion, the team comes across as having a balanced interest in full disclosure.
The stakes are high for Zimmerman in this case. They’re also high for a brand seeking to nurture positive public perception. Internet presence must be taken seriously with a well-designed social media strategy. The O’Mara Law Group’s final investment in social media reads by the book:
Monitor the conversation. Participate in the conversation. Protect the brand/message.