Social Media Versus the Tiger
For days on end, new revelations emerged with every passing hour. Racy “sext messages” from alleged lovers were posted online, confusing and ambiguous statements from the golfer himself were posted to his website, and all the while the media frenzy picked up steam.
As an avid golfer and someone who counts himself a fan of both Tigers (the golf phenomenon and the humanitarian who spends time and money supporting inner city kids through his foundation and who is perhaps one of the most ardent supporters of America’s men and women in uniform in professional sports today), this has been an incredibly disappointing time.
Tiger’s PR team violated nearly every basic tenant of crisis communications in their botched and muddled handling of the greatest threat to the Woods’ brand since the golfer turned pro in 1996. Physicians have a credo, and it is one shared in the crisis business: “First, do no harm”. Unfortunately for Woods and his family, each successive attempt to tamp down the media frenzy that has engulfed the superstar has served to only further fuel the fire and do greater harm.
Rather than directly address the allegations clearly and transparently – and importantly, all at once – thereby establishing the narrative of coverage, Woods allowed every seedy, media-hungry reality wanna-be to come out of the woodwork for their 15 minutes of fame at his expense. And in the digital era in which this crisis is swirling, the coverage has been dizzying.
There have been almost seven million blog posts discussing Tiger’s “transgressions” (as of this writing) since the news first broke. What began as understandable curiosity in the online space has since taken a dramatic turn for the worse. An analysis of online commentary shows significant spikes immediately following each of Tiger’s confusing statements. What began as understandable interest turned to healthy skepticism after his first post – which led to a 100 percent increase in online chatter. After his second post, online commentary increased by more than 200 percent – this time with a decidedly critical tone.
Failing to understand the hole they had dug for their client, Team Woods’ PR team further compounded the problem by not engaging Tiger’s supporters - people who are waiting for something, anything to hold on to. Take, for example, the world’s most populous social networking site, Facebook. Tiger Woods has more than 1 million fans online who are ready to believe and rally around their icon. Rather than engage this community, the site has gone silent without a single post or update since the crash.
In an eerie sign of things to come, one of the most recent posts from Tiger last month actually discusses his family and the media. Tiger writes: “I am asked why people don’t often see me and Elin in gossip magazines or tabloids. I think we’ve avoided a lot of media attention because we are kind of boring.”
Lacking any new messaging to coalesce around, Tiger’s fans have flooded this older post with almost 600 comments, more than half of which show anger, confusion, and outright hostility towards a man they just days ago proudly supported.
The lesson for those in the glaring spotlight of fame is that in today’s digital age, you cannot afford to allow others to define your messaging. Tiger’s lack of clear messaging, his media silence, and his failure to directly and succinctly provide his millions of fans with any reason to come to his defense has led one of the greatest athletes of our time into the public relations crisis of the year.
It is time for Tiger Woods to come forward, stand in the glare of the media spotlight, and take his licks. Not for the media, but for his millions of fans, both online and off, who deserve better.