Manti Te’O Hoax – A Hard Lesson in Social Media and Digital Marketing

Good morning everybody. So today I’m at the gym and I’m so perplexed by the story that I’m watching while I’m on the stair master. I’m trying to understand what happened here. If you haven’t heard the full story published originally on the Deadspin about Manti Te’O and this hoax, I’ll give you a quick breakdown. Manti  Te’O  is a linebacker at Notre Dame who got a lot of press when he was in an article featured in Sports Illustrated titled, “The Full Manti” . The story was pretty much about an athlete who played extremely well despite circumstances that would be difficult for anyone in their life. The circumstances were surrounding his grandmother’s death and subsequently the death of his girlfriend from leukemia.

The story circulating today basically says that Manti Te’O’s girlfriend actually never existed. That the girl in the photographs on her social media profiles is  actually of a living woman from California who says she never met Manti. This is according to the Deadspin article (by the way Deadspin did not release the woman’s real name even though she was their main source for the article).

There are many reasons I don’t believe everything on the Deadspin but I won’t go into that in this article. Let’s just say for the sake of argument that the article is completely correct.

The reason this is on the news channels, ESPN, ABC, etc. is because obviously Manti Te’O got a lot of positive press because of the effects of storytelling. Digital PR, written content, social media and STORYTELLING is the backbone of marketing for athletes in 2013 and beyond. Yet harnessing it is obviously a slippery slope and this is a prime example of why athletes need to think about having digital consultants or agencies help manage their online presence.

Manti Te’o’s statement:

“This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating. It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother’s death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life. I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been. In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was. Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life, and I’m looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL Draft.”

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What Could Mante Te’O Have Done Differently To Protect His Image?

- Own his own story
- Use Analytics to decide what to talk to your fans about
- Hire an experienced digital marketing agency or consultant
- Understand that social media profiles should be genuine but used as a storytelling tool. Make sure what you put out is in line with your story and image

What can other athletes learn from the Manti Te’O Hoax?

There is value in marketing yourself as a brand.

Don’t use social media to start a relationship. It’s incredibly easy for the public to reach a celebrity or athlete through social media, but just as they have body guards or an inside circle to protect them from crazes fans, there should be a team protecting an athlete’s image online.

What athletes should NOT do is decide to NOT to participate in social media. Why? Because there is extreme value in having a huge following online. What athletes need to understand is that their fans want an inside perspective on their life. Go ahead and tell them what your workout was, tell them what inspires you, tell that what your diet is and that you’re hooked on a certain television show. Just understand that you should be telling your story as if you were releasing a press release. Don’t put out information or content that you will regret later.

This is Ari, sports digital marketing nut – signing off.

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