How Social Media and Sexting Can Kill Your Brand

Originally posted on the Holmes Report.

It’s been an interesting week to be a PR professional. Or should I say, with the advent of all things social, an interesting couple of years?

I’ve been talking about Brand Me for a while, but now more than ever—Anthony Weiner and his cyber sexcapades brings this to mind today—we as PR people are often (and nail-bitingly) placing damage control for brands (and celebs and politicos) at the cornerstone of a strategy.

Will the congressman be able to bounce back? I’m not so sure. His botched attempt at a cover-up, then an admittance of guilt, just shows us the power of PR folks in this day and age. At the very least, we could have taught him how to tweet. (Or not to.)

Because it’s no longer about getting caught with your pants down. Weiner was not in some hotel room in midtown, not at a clandestine meeting in some dark boîte in the Village. Online cheating is becoming as damaging to a marriage and a reputation as the “real thing.” Is all this liking on Facebook turning us into a society of cheaters? My company, Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, surveyed 1,000 Americans online earlier this year and found that 65 percent of women and 62 percent of men agreed that the Internet has made it easier for people to cheat on their partners. Although, only four percent of women and six percent of men agreed that having a strongly sexual relationship online doesn’t count as cheating on your partner.

As long ago (in Internet time) as May 2010, a Pew Internet and American Life Project survey found that 15 percent of adults had received “a sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude photo or video” on their cell phone, and six percent said they had sent such a text. (My hunch is that this number has risen in the past year.) Weiner was not guilty only on Twitter—his other reported dalliances involved sexting, and possibly on a government-issued phone, calls that have now led to calls for the congressman’s resignation.

It all makes me think of how much more important a stealth PR team and strategy is in light of today’s new normal of full disclosure and nothing to hide—because our cyberlives don’t lie, or can’t, really. With all the brand gaffes these days, from Groupon at the Super Bowl to Charlie Sheen (is he still #winning somewhere?) to Weinergate, it’s not enough to think about brands as marketers; it’s becoming more important to think in terms of media and communications, and how everything we say and do is out there and up for debate.

It’s hard to believe Brand Weiner could risk so much—not only his marriage to his beautiful wife but also his career. And how will Facebook and Twitter weather this storm, as relationships and lives are torn asunder by naughty hashtags and suggestive posts?

Management of Brand Me has never been more difficult, and in today’s nothing-to-hide world, it’s crucial that PR people are called to the panic room from the get-go. Because Weiner’s notion of “full transparency” backfired on his brand, and Facebook and Twitter held the smoking guns.

As of this week, 229 Republicans, 156 Democrats and two independents in the House and Senate use Twitter, according to TweetCongress. For all those on the Hill and in the public eye, being “socially responsible” is taking on a whole new meaning.

Jun 11, 2011 | Posted by in Politics, Public Relations, Social Media | 0 comments

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