Charlie Sheen’s very public unraveling is setting new standards for personal self-destruction. From a social media standpoint, however, he’s provided a valuable lesson in how the business of crisis communications has changed so dramatically in just a very short time.
It’s hard to believe that you could derive anything useful from Sheen’s demise. However, some of the social media tactics he employed — although frenetic and chaotic — demonstrate a key principle of damage control in today’s public space: make your case directly with the general public and leave the filter of the traditional media behind.
Over the past few years, this tactic has been variously employed by by celebrities in crisis mode, from Tiger Woods to Kanye West to Demi Lovato. They (or their handlers) recognized that managing what’s being said about you, and who’s saying it, is the crucial first step to recovery. And the best platform to accomplish this task is social media, especially personalized video messaging.
Think back just a year ago. After an intitial period of silence, Tiger Woods appeared in a carefully controlled media event and spoke directly to the public about his marital transgressions. News reporters were kept far away from the mea culpa show. Woods, famously disciplined (at least on the golf course) followed a carefully scripted rehabilitation PR plan, which probably cost him many thousands of dollars in consulting fees, and it seems to have worked. On a lesser scale in terms of public profile, Kanye West and Janet Jackson both used social media to apologize for their on-air transgressions, and just this week, Disney starlet Demi Lovato released a contrite video message in which she apologized for past (and unspoken) bad behavior, and asked her fans for support and understanding. The lesson in all this is to put the immediacy of social media to good use to battle a crisis and restore one’s reputation.
Can these celebrity tactics work for a corporation or nonprofit? There’s no reason why not, as long as the entity is willing to aggressively create and manage a strong social media presence. The old crisis PR playbook, which most organizations still have on their hard drives, has value, especially its guidance on establishing control over the message as soon as possible. These days, though, that’s harder than ever. For one thing, communications is 24/7, and even a moment’s hesitation to project your point of view across can be harmful. For another, controlling the message is virtually impossible in this day of camera-equipped smart phones and pocket-sized video recorders, as former Egyptian President Hasni Mubarek discovered. In today’s public space, direct messaging via social media is essential for organizations and individuals hoping to convince the general public to give them a second chance.
As for Charlie Sheen, the noteriety of the past few weeks may have trashed his career — or maybe not. The exposure he’s received could be a blessing in disguise, at least according to one observer.
“At this point, all bets are off regarding where his career goes from here,” said Paul Levinson, a Fordham University media professor. “Although nothing is certain where fame and celebrity are concerned, Sheen’s ubiquity in the past few weeks suggest that he could indeed go on to become a bigger superstar than (the sitcom) could ever had made him.”
Which suggests that there may have been method to his madness, after all.