A single photo and a few key words can totally change your reputation and re-shape your personal brand. The latest example: the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman is a tragedy that has captivated the nation's attention.
The debate over whether Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, should be arrested for shooting the unarmed teenager was a national issue nearly a month after the shooting. President Obama and GOP presidential candidates were speaking out on the tragedy and social media was filled with people wearing hoodies to show their support.
By March 26, a CNN poll found 73 percent of Americans thought Zimmerman should be arrested. That same day, more than two weeks after the story went national, Zimmerman defenders entered the debate (Zimmerman remained in hiding). The photos that shaped everyone's opinions of the case (see photos below, left) were joined by very different new photos (see photos below, right).
Suddenly, debates began about media bias, noting that the most widely-seen photo of Zimmerman was one taken when he had been arrested on an unrelated charge while the most widely circulated photo of the victim was taken when the victim was much younger. Zimmerman's defenders responded with much different photos showing a smiling Zimmerman and a Twitter photo showing an older, taller and unsmiling Martin.
The tragedy and the way the story has been told in the national media and via social media also reinforces several lessons related to strategic communications and marketing for both individuals and organizations:
- We're becoming public figures. In the age of Google, Facebook and YouTube, we are all public figures now. Every story and photo has the potential to impact your reputation. Reporters Google you before they call you.
- A picture is worth a thousand words and video is worth more. Remember your mother's advice about wearing clean underwear? That wisdom applies to anything and everything you do in public and to everything you post because photos, videos and tapes greatly influence perceptions.
- Key words mean everything to a narrative. Nearly every story about the case noted Martin had no weapon and was carrying "Skittles and an iced tea.'' a few key words that show rather than tell his youth and innocence. Small details such as that can be essential to creating an influential story.
- How will this look on page one? A major university president once offered us some great advice: "every time I made a major decision, I asked myself 'How would this look if it was reported on page one of the Detroit Free Press?'''
- You are your own personal brand and first impressions are powerful. We've frequently written and spoken about the importance of personal branding and your brand (like your company's) is usually summed up in the first two or three words that come to mind when people think of you.
- Getting involved with your story is essential. Public opinion is like cooking: when the ingredients are still in the mixing bowl, it's very easy to change the taste and shape of the meal. Once that meal comes out of the oven, it's much, much harder to influence the taste or shape of that meal. And if you let someone else do all the cooking, you will have no impact.
- Rapid response makes a story a one-day story. The longer journalists and social media wait to learn details of a story, the longer the story stretches out and the more likely it is to take on unpredictable forms. We work to help clients anticipate all angles to a possible story, to help them craft their messages and we work to guess how it can and will play out with customers, with influencers and in traditional media and in social media.
Organik is a full service Michigan-based marketing and strategic communications firm generating change conversations to move the needle via a host of tools including campaigns, social media, advocacy, digital marketing, video, engagement sites, media relations, marketing events and public relations. Learn more at Organikconsulting.com.