Beware of Corporate Catfishing


Jan 22, 2013 - by Ryan Berman
Beware of Corporate Catfishing

Corporate Catfishing is much like Catfishing. It’s the idea that corporations use digital mediums to shape and control storylines – that aren’t truthful -- to create deeper, more meaningful connections with their audience.

Let’s say you recently returned from a month long stint in a third world nation where there was no cable, Internet or Americans. Then you probably haven’t heard about the top two stories to date in 2013; Lance Armstrong’s not-so-shocking confession and the recent ‘Catfish’ hoax played against Notre Dame Linebacker Manti Te’o by Ronaiah Tuiasopo.

If you don’t know the concept of Catfishing, it’s the idea of creating a false identity and pretending to be someone you’re not in the online world—including on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It’s done for the sake of creating a deceptive (romantic) connection with another.

Which brings us to a twist of this concept we’re calling Corporate Catfishing.

Sans the romance, Corporate Catfishing is much like Catfishing. It’s the idea that corporations use social and news platforms to shape and control storylines—that aren’t truthful—to create deeper, more meaningful connections with their audience.

For example, there are far too many businesses making false sustainability claims just for the hopeful reputation boost (a whole separate blog post in itself). Apple for many years claimed they were ‘green’, but were exposed by Greenpeace—and others—which rapidly soured their storyline in social media and beyond.

But often times, sound companies with great leaders find themselves moving too fast and heading in too many directions leading to a Corporate Catfishing moment. Just one instance is all it takes to create an uncontrollable snowball of bad press leading to a tarnished reputation and loss of customers.

It truly is a scary new digital world out there for businesses. Here are five points to think about to potentially combat a Corporate Catfish moment before it ever happens.

Practice What You Preach, Business, From The Inside-Out
In this day and age, people buy brands first. If they don’t buy the brand, they’ll never buy the brand’s product so slow down big company. Get your brand healthy internally first. It starts from auditing your brand from within your walls. What do you as a brand stand for? Are you aligned with what your customer stands for? Again, if your audience buys in on the brand, they’ll consider buying your product.

Break Down Departmental Silos
Internal clarity matters. We like to take many of our brand partners through something I call ‘Border Patrol’—paying homage to our San Diego HQ. We get entire Boards and C-Suites in the same room and get all parties talking and facing the same direction. If we can get them sharing what’s happening in each division of a company, we can easily clear up gaps (miscommunications) and better pinpoint corporate goals as a whole. Once those goals are identified, we can create honest storylines that can be shared on their website, in their press materials and in social channels.

Be Wary of the Digital Detective Generation
Social media and the Internet in general make it simple for anyone to question, track and counter check any corporate claim a company may make. Welcome to the detective generation where anyone who has access to Wi-Fi and who is persistent enough to delve under the tip of the corporate iceberg can look for and crack open Corporate Catfish moments. Even scarier? Sadly, the rules of ‘breaking news’ have changed. Fact checking plays second fiddle to being first to market with a story. So know this is what you’re up against. Which brings us to my fourth point…

Follow A Process Before You Post
Someone was just trying to do their job. Posting a picture on Instagram or a quick, quirky tweet from CES. Next thing you know, one light-hearted moment can be taken the wrong way. Yes, you need to have faith in your team of social experts (both internal and external) but create a checklist or put guidelines in place for all parties to follow. It never hurts to have a process in tact that protects the brand at all costs.

When you have something worth saying, say it the same—but differently— in all appropriate mediums.
Once you’re in the clear, rely on your team to say that one great thing the same way—only differently—in all the places you can tell that story. We’re big on preaching right-sized ideas and messages. Same concept applies here. How you say something in 140 characters will be different than how you tell that story in a picture, webisode or press release. The audience take away from all these messages can be the same if you nail it in the execution.


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