Sunday, June 19, 2011

How To Respond To A Social Media Crisis or Scandal: Don't Be A Weiner

One of my favorite television shows, Seinfeld, was not only funny, but it also perfectly discussed the New York City experience. If you have ever lived in New York City you are bound to have come across one of the quirks of the City that was memorialized on the sitcom.

For example, my wife and I once received a ride back from Long Island after a formal affair from a friend of a friend. The ride took about an hour and a half and this person dropped us off one avenue (about 3 city blocks) away from where we lived because he didn't want to have to drive around the avenue and a couple of blocks. It was also raining and my wife was wearing a dress and I a suit and we were both carrying an overnight bag. It was reminiscent of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine went skiing with her friend and her friend didn't want to drop Elaine off in front of her apartment building because the friend would have had to drive around the block.

Seinfeld comes into play in Anthony Weiner's social media scandal because there is an episode where George decides that he should do the opposite of everything he has done his entire life in order to become a success. To avoid or respond to a social media crisis or scandal act in the exact opposite manner that Weiner did. These are some examples in no particular order of how not to act like a Weiner:

1) Don't take naked or inappropriate photographs of yourself with a smart phone or a camera and then upload them online. Instead, if you enjoy looking at yourself naked stand in front of a mirror.

2) Don't have sexually charged conversations online with others and/or send them inappropriate photographs of yourself. Instead, listen to Avenue Q and "The Internet is for Porn" song.

3) Don't wait days to talk with an attorney once your actions have become public. Instead, hire an attorney immediately and be truthful with your legal counsel.

4) Don't falsely claim that a crime has been committed to explain an errant social media post. Once Weiner refused to file a police report it was evident he was lying. Instead, be truthful about the matter. If your attorney believes a crime may be involved due to the online behavior do not go on the record with an explanation because that may be utilized against you at a later date.

5) Don't hold multiple press conferences and act obnoxious and indignant towards the media. Instead, treat the media with courtesy.

6) Don't lie to your political staff. Many congressional staffers work long hours for years with little compensation because they believe in the causes that the politician champions. Instead, be honest with your staff or do not go on the record with them if your attorney advises against discussing the matter.

7) Don't lie to your constituents, colleagues, and friends. The cover up is almost always worse than the initial activity and digital footprints will most likely expose the truth. Instead, if your attorney advises that there is no legal liability involved honestly explain what happened even if it is embarrassing. The American public is extremely understanding and is willing to forgive their politicians, athletes, entertainers, and heroes. If your attorney advises against discussing the matter publicly refuse to answer questions regarding the matter until your lawyer advises otherwise.

8) Don't drag out the situation. If there appears to be no legal liability apologize immediately. Delaying the inevitable apology will only further fuel the media frenzy and create more anger. Don't follow Tiger Woods' social media scandal playbook.

9) Apologize, apologize, and apologize. When you thought you have apologized enough apologize some more. Show contrition and humility. You need to demonstrate remorse for all the harm you have caused.

10) During a resignation do not pretend you are General Douglas MacArthur giving his "I Shall Return" speech. Instead resign with grace and humility. Weiner's resignation speech sounded more like a political stump speech than a resignation. Weiner should have shown more contrition. For example, during his resignation speech he stated, "most importantly my wife and I can continue to heal from the damage I have caused" and that "I will be looking for other ways to contribute my talents".

In general, the public does not care how Weiner will heal or be able to contribute his talents. He has been over-exposed (no pun intended) and people are sick and tired of looking at him and listening to his untruthful statements. New York may have to spend more than a million dollars to hold a special election to fill his former congressional seat so why didn't Weiner apologize to all of the taxpayers who will now have to foot the bill for his reckless behavior?

Weiner's short-term economic situation may be difficult; however, his long-term economic prospects may be rosy. If he stays out of the spotlight for a period of time, demonstrates that he has learned his lesson, shows contrition, and makes penance he may be able to make a comeback. I think it may take years before he may be able to make a political comeback; however, a professional comeback as a political analyst or a lobbyist may be around the corner.

Weiner may want to utilize social media to launch his professional comeback when the time is right. However, he should stay away from social media until he is able to utilize the medium without sending out inappropriate material. If Elliot Spitzer is able to make a comeback after only a few years Weiner should be able to do so also.

To learn how to respond to a social media crisis or scandal you may contact me at www.shearlaw.com.

Copyright 2011 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.