Some thoughts from a PR perspective on the Nick Riewoldt AFL scandal

Wow they sure don’t make crises like they used to. In days gone by they used to say that the first you heard of a crisis was when a journalist called you up to find out more details on the reason why one of your employees was drunk when he crashed a company vehicle. Nowadays by the time a journalist has called 40,000 or so people will have seen and shared the twitpic taken by a passer-by of your drunken driver stumbling from the crash.

A true modern digital crisis is currently unfolding for AFL players St Kilda team Capt Nick Riewoldt and teammates Nick Dal Santo and Zac Dawson after a series of naked photos of the players have been posted on the previously unknown Kim Duthie’s Facebook page. As expected the story went viral, very quickly, both in social and traditional mediums.

Following the posting of the first images mainstream media coverage started appearing on 19 December and the media storm continued throughout the day of 20 December. According to Google News there are currently 878 articles on the scandal. I expect this to continue to grow rapidly in the next 48 hours. The graph below highlights the growth of the story.

GoogleNews thumb Some thoughts from a PR perspective on the Nick Riewoldt AFL scandal

Facebook has closed down Kim’s page, but it hasn’t stopped her getting her side of the story out. No sooner had her account been closed than she turned her attention to Twitter where she has furiously been posting and responding to tweets throughout the day.

Today, 21 December, the story was a top news item across the nation. She has conducted radio and broadcast interviews, but what is most interesting for me is the way Kim has used traditional media to launch her own content channels, namely Twitter (she has increased her following by 3,359, in the last 24 hours) and most recently Ustream, where she rebutted the tone of the media interviews appearing late today on the validity of the story.

image thumb Some thoughts from a PR perspective on the Nick Riewoldt AFL scandal

According to some quick research conducted on Tweetreach tweets that mention her Twitter handle have now reached a potential audience of 101,000 people – those are mainstream reach. What you also have to keep in mind is that traditional media have never mentioned her name. So tweets referencing her Twitter handle have solely been because people have sought additional coverage on social media.

To the likely detriment of all involved, the media cycle in this instance will be determined not just by the traditional media, but also by Kim on her own platforms. I have a feeling this story has quite a bit more to run yet.

What can be learned from this from a PR point of view? Below are a few tips from me on managing crisis in the digital age:

  1. Monitor the web constantly – the traditional media was tipped off to this story because it appears Kim approached a series of papers with the photos first. There are plenty of cases where this isn’t the case. Monitoring to identify peaks in conversation will ensure you are aware of potential crisis hopefully before it hits the mainstream media.SocialmentionsofSTKilda thumb Some thoughts from a PR perspective on the Nick Riewoldt AFL scandal
  2. Pre-crisis prepare your messaging – have pre-prepared media statements that can be adapted for media, Facebook, Twitter and launch these quickly. It took St Kilda until around 2.00 pm on 20 December to get a statement up to a story that broke in the last hours of 19 December – too long in the modern hype cycle.
  3. Consider a dark site – having a site that can quickly be turned on in times of crisis can be invaluable. During the recent Gulf of Mexico oil disaster BP dedicated their entire home page to the crisis. St Kilda could have befitted from a similar approach. Despite the media statement currently being the top news item you could argue that the media response should be the only thing the St Kilda website is focussed on communicating presently. The decision to post a story about the cheer squad during this scandal is a strange on in my mind. Less strange and just unfortunate is the fact the advertisement featuring Reiwold is still showing on the St Kilda website.  StKildawebsite thumb Some thoughts from a PR perspective on the Nick Riewoldt AFL scandal
  4. Realise that anyone can cause a storm – typically the way a journalist’s enquiries or complaint about an organisation are handled and that of the public is radically different. Until a few days ago Kim was a nobody. Today she is an individual with a series of powerful content platforms and a traditional media following her every move. Treat everybody with a certain level of respect, you never know when an individual will become the next social media megastar – remember United Breaks Guitars?
  5. Build it before you need it – it is always tough to build a social presence for response purposes when the crisis has already hit. Also don’t abandon during the crisis. St Kilda has made only made a handful of tweets since the story has broken and have not responded to any questions or messages of support from fans on Twitter or Facebook.

What do you think of the tips above? ? On the whole I think St Kilda and the AFL have done a good job of managing this, so don’t read these as solutions for this particular crisis. More observations and tips in general. Do you have other suggestions?

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