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April 30, 2012

George Zimmerman: A Rep Management Case Study

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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.”

Why social media for George Zimmerman?

An explanation by George Zimmerman's legal team on why a social media presence is necessary for a sound defense.

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
  • Fundraising

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.

@GZlegalcase on Twitter

Tweets by @GZlegalcase addressing questions and sharing news.

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.





7 responses to “George Zimmerman: A Rep Management Case Study”

  1. Rory writes:

    I appreciate what you’re trying to illustrate, but I find this entire article completely cynical. If you’re trying to prove a point about how social media marketing should be conducted, surely there has to be an example more relevant to your readership (internet marketers, I assume) than a case-study about a man facing trial for the second degree-murder of an unarmed teenager. If you had to use this as a case-study for how social media marketing should be conducted, over the plethora of small, medium and large businesses that all use SMM successfully, then I really do despair.

    You said, “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.” Well, perhaps it’s just my natural inhibitive nature coming through, but I don’t think ‘rep management’ and ‘disaster response’ should be on the ‘list’ at all…

    Anyway, like I said, I appreciate what you were trying to show, but I did feel this was in slightly bad taste (although obviously not intentionally). I still love the BC blog, and will carry on reading regularly, I just thought I’d give my two-cents on this one!

  2. Virginia Nussey writes:

    I understand your perspective and believe me, Rory, I knew this would be a sensitive topic. But I’m not aware of a high profile legal case that developed a social media strategy. This is legitimately new territory and represents a sea change in public relations management. I think that’s worth acknowledging.

  3. aaron wall writes:

    The problem with the above case is that it was a total media hatchet job, where the media would run their “news” banners over the top of a bloody head to hide the actual evidence which didn’t line up with the narrative they wanted to spin. Other innocent people in the country have been beaten due to racist media spin on this topic.

    Ultimately if the mainstream media attacks you & you are just a regular old joe, there is no reputation management solution – especially when they are willing to lie to shape a story. I mean…you can sue them after the fact, but even that is hard to win due to how powerful, rich & connected the big media players are. And if that suit gains any traction you just create more well linked content on authoritative domain names linking your name to topic x.

    Fox even fired their reporters for wanting to report on risks associated with rBGH. In spite of having related bits in writing, those reporters still lost the case after an appeal where the media basically stood behind the fact that they are not obligated to tell the truth!!! :D

    The need for “political correctness” among the accused & the framing of racism (where none exists – this guy was even praised by the city mayor for helping a homeless black man) would make it virtually impossible to to write about anything.

    The best thing he could have done there was nothing, because the more he defended himself the more the media would have used that to continue the story, and the more innocent people who would be violently attacked due to low IQ racist people watching the hate TV deciding to beat on others. I think a few weeks ago there was even a story about a group attack on a 78 year old man!

  4. Rory writes:

    @Virginia – Thanks for your measured response, and it’s probably right that you’re covering this issue given you’re stature within SM circles and the BC blog stature within the industry.

    I guess I’m just cynical about rep management being associated with a high profile legal case, as I instantly asume that it’s just a ploy to help GZ’s defence. Anyway, thanks for covering this subject with decorum, I’ll try not to be over-senstive in the future! :D

  5. Virginia Nussey writes:

    @Rory :D

    @Aaron awesome to see you here! I won’t get into my personal opinion on the case and the media coverage that has followed. All I’ll say is here’s another example of the power of #influence.

  6. Marc Nashaat writes:

    While I understand some of the sensitivity related to the case I actually think this case study is highly relevant to marketers. Many agencies offer reputation management as a core service and there is much to be learned from a case like this.

    The same principles apply whether you are trying to refute misinformation or discredit ad hominem attacks. Whether one chooses to believe in the guilt or innocence of Zimmerman, they should also take into account that companies employ reputation management on a regular basis to protect their image, or to soften the blow of bad publicity.

    In many cases the causes for this publicity can be worse than the alleged murder of an unarmed teenager. Take BP for instance, where 11 workers and countless animals died due to the negligence of BP and their affiliates. Now refer to Google for the wealth of case studies available on the RM regarding this incident.

    In either of these cases marketers can learn from the actions taken to employ reputation management and the use of social media in doing so. One doesn’t have to endorse these actions/events, but they should be open to understanding the implications and applying what can be learned from them. That’s just my two cents!

  7. Virginia Nussey writes:

    2 cents I gladly accept. Thanks, Marc, for your thoughtful response.



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