The Court of Public Opinion is always in session on social media. In 2003, James Haggerty’s book “In the Court of Public Opinion: Winning Your Case with Public Relations” became the bible of litigation communications or litigation public relations as a part of risk.
“It is not at all overstatement to say that the world in which most lawyers are practicing has changed immeasurably over the course of the past two decades. We have entered an era of 24-hour news, web-blogging and 500-channel cable boxes,” Haggerty wrote.
Now, we live in a world where 24-hour news seems quaint and most stories about cable TV involve people cutting it. Of course, in 2004, Facebook had just launched and Twitter was two more years away.
The new challenge is talking about your case effectively, legally and ethically on social media. Winning in the court of law while losing your hard-fought reputation in the court of public opinion can be a hollow victory.
Start with the classic “who, what, when, where, how” approach — in a slightly different order — in considering how to use social media.
Where are the key audiences for this issue getting information? Is your issue newsy and of interest to journalists? Twitter is the go-to place. Want your communication shared widely? Use Facebook. According to the Pew Institute, 81 percent of all content shared in the U.S. is shared on Facebook.
What are people saying about your issue on social media? Correct misinformation and link to corroborating, independent information from your social media posts. Don’t allow factual errors about your issue to live online.
Who are the key social media influencers interested in your issue? Look for Facebook pages set up to address your issue. Are people talking about your case on Twitter “verified” users? Twitter verifies accounts if it determines them to be of public interest, using a check mark next to the tweeter’s name. Monitor those closely. They likely have more influential followers.
How do you use social media most effectively? Be responsive. Social media is two-way communication. Work fast. Social media is built on speed.
When is the best time to utilize the astounding reach of social media? Mark O’Mara defended George Zimmerman, who was on trial for murder in the death of Trayvon Martin. The book “Social Media in the Courtroom: A New Era for Criminal Justice?” by Thaddeus A. Hoffmeister described O’Mara’s social media strategy:
“With social media, Zimmerman’s defense team could circumvent traditional media outlets and reach the public directly. This direct connection to the public allowed them to (1) dispute misinformation about the case; (2) discredit and eliminate fraudulent social media profiles of people claiming to be George Zimmerman; (3) reduce speculation about the case and George Zimmerman; (4) raise funds for George Zimmerman’s defense; (5) react to developments in the case in real time; (6) post relevant legal documents.” ●
Thomas Fladung is vice president at Hennes Communications