A curious tale from across the pond that unfolded this week provides some salutary lessons for any brand, enterprise, team or individual involved in managing social media accounts.
When I awoke Wednesday morning my Twitter feed was abuzz with reaction to a post from Coleen Rooney, variously described as an author, TV personality and influencer, but also known as the wife of soccer star Wayne Rooney - currently plying his trade for American MLS club D.C. United.
The episode has been dubbed #WAGathaChristie, with WAG being an epithet commonly attached to the partners of famous British soccer stars (meaning "Wives And Girlfriends").
Never mind Brexit, this is the story that really commanded the attention of the British public over the past few days, which is probably as much a comment on the state of society in my home country as it is about the ennui everyone is feeling about the endless "Will we, won’t we leave Europe" and "When will it happen" saga.
The Rooneys have long been prime fodder for notorious English tabloid newspapers such as The Sun, Mirror, and Mail and Coleen had become frustrated that posts to her private Instagram account kept being leaked and ending up as stories in the Rupert Murdoch/News Corporation-owned Sun.
She had an inkling about who the leaker was and hatched an ingenious plan to uncover them by blocking everyone from the account apart from the suspect and posting false stories to the private Insta.
Like clockwork the false stories appeared on the pages of The Sun, culminating in a recent one about the basement flooding in her new house – all of them completely untrue.
Coleen ended her long Twitter post, which was actually a screenshot from Apple’s Notes app, with the big reveal about the source of the leaks and the account it had come from: "It’s ……..Rebekah Vardy’s account." Gotcha!
Rebekah Vardy is the wife of another English football star, Jamie Vardy, and the two women have known each other for some time through watching their husbands playing for England and the celebrity networks in which such individuals move.
Within minutes Rebekah Vardy had responded on Twitter, also using Notes, having first apparently called Coleen claiming she had nothing to do with the leaks and that several people had access to her Instagram account over the years and could have been responsible.
In her note she said: "I wish you had called me if you thought this. I never speak to anyone about you as various journalists who have asked me to over the years can vouch for."
Not unreasonably, at least on the surface and admitting that I don’t have any extra insight into the two women’s relationship, she added: "If you thought this was happening you could have told me and I could have changed my passwords to see if it stopped."
Vardy appears to have since deleted this tweet. The Sun has deleted the fake stories from its website. While Coleen’s take was that: "This has been a burden in my life for a few years now and finally I have got to the bottom of it......"
Many brands have weighed in with some, admittedly very humorous, takes on #WAGathaChristie, including Penguin Books and the BBC. It’s the flotsam and jetsam that keeps the wheels of the tabloid press, reality TV and social media turning.
Frankly, I care not a jot about "who dunnit" and "why" or the endless fascination of the Brits with WAGs and other nonsense that fuels the likes of the MailOnline website, which has spread its tentacles into the U.S. very successfully. Suffice to say that these newspapers and media outlets are some of the most-read in the world, so they have great resonance for communicators trying to reach young audiences.
Here are five takeaways from #WAGathaChristie for PR pros:
1. Who won?
The consensus was that Coleen Rooney had activated a real mic drop moment and the "It’s ……..Rebekah Vardy’s account" line has taken on almost mythical proportions this week. Her tweet attracted 305,000 likes, 52,000 retweets and nearly 17,000 comments. It will certainly be a well-referenced cultural meme moving forward. We’ll see how Rebekah Vardy responds or whether she decides to keep schtum and attempt to draw a line under it and move forward.
2. Social media access
Every brand, individual, agency or business must pay close attention to password access to social media accounts and have watertight systems to keep them secure and updated when people change roles or leave an organization – it’s not just a computer security issue it’s also a reputational issue. It sounds basic, but I bet a lot of these slip through the net.
3. Media standards
At a time when the media is constantly labeled as peddling fake news, it really doesn’t help anyone who works in media to see basic due diligence standards as low as the ones demonstrated by The Sun in this tawdry episode. The stories were published with no checks or balances and no apparent opportunity for comment from the damaged third parties (in this case, the Rooneys). As a journalist, it thoroughly depresses me. And as for PR pros, well they need to know that the media environement in which they place their stories is credible.
They exist in a febrile world I don’t profess to understand or aspire to be part of. But their every exploit is followed in minute detail by millions of people and if a brand can tap into this energy and harness it positively it is a supremely powerful environment in which to operate and influence.
5. Twitter & Instagram
As President Trump and many others have demonstrated these are intensely powerful media channels that can be used incredibly effectively to engage audiences in stories and brand narratives. Whether it’s Slim Jim’s, Glenlivet’s whisky capsules, G Fuel’s supposed new Swedish meatball flavor, and even the NBA. Although the latter two cases are also an example of the dangers that lie beneath the surface on social, in these cases working with controversial influencers such as PewDiePie and dabbling in Chinese politics.