Sport and social media are like peas in a pod. Sporting clubs/leagues possess the perfect concoction for social media success - a passionate audience, celebrity status and highly valued content. Fans gravitate to sporting associations like glue, which is why the NBA & UFC are amongst the most successful social media marketers on the planet. But... with high profile comes high risk. Particularly when a angry fan gets involved. Which is precisely what has unfolded over recent months in Australia, where a single fan has inflicted perhaps the most sustained and damaging social media campaign ever seen against a professional organisation.
A big claim... I know. Plenty of brands have fallen victim to a social media crisis. Yet I can't recall a case with sustained mainstream media coverage for over 3 months. To get a sense of the scale of the social media scandal, it is first necessary to understand the context of the story.
The sport at the centre of the scandal is Australian Rules Football (AFL) " Australia's national sport. Aussie Rules football is to Australians what ice hockey is to Canadians. Or what the NFL is to Americans. It's huge!
The team tainted by the scandal is St Kilda, who have made the Grand Final (aka Super Bowl) the last two seasons running. Make no mistake, this is high profile stuff!
A Teenage Girl Scorned
The chain of events that have unfolded are both disturbing and bizarre:
- A female fan met a number of St Kilda players during a school clinic. She was just 16 years of age. Despite her youth, a sexual relationship began with Sam Gilbert, one of the players. Shortly after she alleged that she was pregnant with his twins (a claim she recently admitted was a lie, many months after the initial accusation).
- While the girl harboured ambitions of becoming a WAG, the player wasn't interested in maintaining the relationship and ended it. Shortly after the girl reported she had miscarried her alleged child.
- Jaded at her treatment (or "treatment", depending on which side, if any, you're on) by the player and his club, the girl reported the incident to the AFL. While the AFL investigated her claims, they were ultimately dismissed as no unlawful conduct had occurred.
By this point, the girl felt humiliated (despite the fact her deception had not yet been revealed). She decided it was time to settle the score via social media...
Revenge via Facebook
A n angry ports fan taking to social media to air their grievances is nothing out of the ordinary. Except when they've managed to acquire nude photos of two of the best players in the competition. Which is exactly what she had in her possession after her brief relationship with the player in question.
On December 21, she briefly released the photos to the Internet via Facebook, before a court order prompted Facebook to disable her account.
The photos were subsequently published to a friend's account, but it was also shut down within the hour.
With Facebook's swift action limiting the spread of the photos, she turned to Twitter.
Revenge via Twitter
Facebook's privacy controls were ultimately limiting the online spread of the photos. Which is where Twitter filled the void.
The public nature of Twitter meant the photos could instantly be accessed and viewed by anyone. Within minutes of the photos being published, they had gone viral. The cat was out of the bag, so to speak. Indeed, the photos became so popular that they spawned their own hashtag - #Dikileaks.
Nor was the girl finished there. She claimed to have up to 19 other nude images of players that she would subsequently leak via Twitter. While those photos never surfaced due to legal threats and police action, it did not stop the teenager amassing a Twitter following approaching 20,000.
Indeed, in the three months since leaking the photos, the fan has managed to maintain headlines with ongoing claims against the players and club via television appearances, radio interviews and publicity stunts.
Social media and a few nude photos had spawned a one-girl media empire.
Revenge via Video/YouTube
Aside from using Twitter and mainstream media, the disgruntled fan also turned to YouTube to reveal (or "reveal") her side of the story. A number of videos were produced shortly after the photos were published, racking up 50,000+ views.
However, it was via hidden video that the teenager delivered her final knockout blow.
In a crazy twist, the teen released a video with footage implying she maintained a cocaine fueled sexual relationship with Ricky Nixon, the nude player's manager, who happens to be the highest profile sports agent in Australia (Jerry Maguire-esque).
The video, while circumstantial, was damning enough to take the scandal to a new level. Three weeks after the story broke (and three months after the nude photo scandal), it still dominates Australia's national news headlines and has led to the resignation of the player agent. At that point the fan declared via Twitter that she had finally won...
Largest social media PR disaster ever...?
I'm prone to say yes, given that I have been exposed to this saga throughout the full three months. Not one party involved has emerged with their reputation in tact. Not the player, fan, club, or league. And certainly not the player manager!
I'm interested in an international perspective. Is this the most damaging social media crisis ever?!?
10 thoughts on “Is This The Most Damaging Social Media Crisis Ever?!? [SFW]”
I guess it is! never read the story like that!
It’s certainly a big scandal from what I read.
Without going into the moral area of the story — I’m not familiar with the laws and principles in Australia — I think it underscores that (online & offline) business reputation management should start before it descends into reputation containment management.
The company should have a reputation management policy in place which suggests approved, expected, encouraged behaviour and draws lines around what is discouraged.
That’s hard to do for things that are legal, as in this case where no laws were broken apart from the potential drug case, but maybe a company can then signal “this is where we will help and this is where we won’t and just cut you loose”.
What do you think?
Certainly agree with your sentiment that reputation management should be a proactive rather than reactive exercise Ruud. Perhaps what’s most interesting is that the AFL has historically been incredibly strong in guarding their reputation via the development of policy around specific societal issues.
They were leaders in abolishing racism from the sports field in the mid 90’s via their racial vilification policy:
They have also developed the most strigent drugs testing policy in the country:
And ironically, they also have a policy and program relating to the treatment of women:
So I’d say that the AFL has been proactive in managing their reputation in general. However, I think it’s safe to say they’re less savvy when it comes to the web, and were unprepared for this scenario. Having said that, I’m not sure who could ever have forseen this type of situation occuring…
Impressed with the amount of care they’ve taken in several fields already, James. And no, I don’t think they or anyone could have foreseen this particular case or issue. But it strikes me that the variables of the case are such that an issue like this almost *must* be caused. Then again, it’s hard to manage sexual attraction and to stipulate all cases where the club would be less than thrilled.
Curious: had you been the social media manager on this case, what would you suggest they’d done?
Good question Ruud. I can’t imagine I’d do too much different to the reputation management text book, namely:
1. Create a home base micro site with the facts of the case from a club/league perspective to counter the girl’s claims
2. Create a PPC campaign around all the relevant topical keywords and point it to the site
3. Respond officially in each of the social channels being utilised by the girl to ensure people have a chance to see both sides of the story. This was their main downfall in my opinion. This is a little leftfield, but I’d also have considered creating a video from the innocent players to document how their life had been affected.
4. Attempt to take issue offline by building a real relationship with the girl. I suspect that’s what the player agent attempted to do, yet evidently got a little too close…
I can’t really say if it’s the most damaging social media crisis ever, because I believe people will shrug it off in a year’s time and say boys will be boys then call the girl a slut. It’s very un-PC, I know, but admit it or not, that’s still how a lot of people think.
From where I look at it, this social media crisis was most damaging to the girl who created it.
Sounds indeed like a familiar theme, LKJ. I haven’t studied the particulars of this case but I wouldn’t be surprised if the girl was upset with the way her relation was going with the team member. On the other hand it would be very un-PC too to automatically assume she’s the helpless victim and the player the mean perpetrator.
How would we be discussing this case if the player had released nude photos of the girl?
LKJ you are completly right. This social media crisis wasmost damaging for the girl.
Great summary of the whole drama – interesting to see you share the same surname? Any relation?
I was wondering how long it would take someone to pick that up. I’m not sure to be honest. My parents think she may be a very distant cousin, but I’ve never met them.
Comments are closed.