Can You Recover From a Public Scandal?

I’ve had just about enough this Rachel Dolezal craziness, haven’t you?

When the news reached me last Thursday evening, I was extremely puzzled and will admit to giggling at the #AskRachel comedy on Twitter and Instagram (Sorry, I’m By Friday morning, it had made the national news circuit and I started to receive a few calls and messages from colleagues at media outlets asking for some expert quotes on this scandal.

Questions like “what should she do?” “should she speak to media or make a statement at this point?” “how can she recover?” were the focus of their inquiries. I find major conflicts with the facts of the Dolezal crisis – mainly cultural conflicts that bother me personally. Meanwhile, though the professional conflicts are equally as offensive (I cringed at her response in an interview where a reporter asked what she thought of the things people were saying about her), we’re all too familiar with the central theme of this kind of public scandal and it all starts with one thing – a presumed lie.

A public scandal is tough to cope with and often times even tougher to recover from. Most times, scandals that surfaced from a cover-up or hidden truth are the worst to bounce back from. I have a lot of advice here so this blog post will be one of three in a series about personal brand management in the midst of a crisis situation.

Let’s start by defining a crisis:

Crisis PRA crisis is anything that has the potential to have lasting damage on the public’s perception of a brand.

Whether the news broke, leaked or spread, you are now exposed, ashamed and embarrassed.

What should you do?

Accept your wrongdoing.

The recovery period of a scandal is often the most sensitive because it’s a time of reflection where the consequences of the situation start to hit hard emotionally. The shame that lingers during the aftermath can be painful. You must admit that you were wrong in order to start the recovery process. Have you noticed how critical we’ve become of public figures nowadays? We’re probably a bit too critical of each other sometimes considering no one is perfect but we certainly don’t appreciate being lied to – we want honesty and we respect transparency. This is a time when you need to take a moment to heal in private so you can ultimately try to make a public effort to present yourself in a repented and reformed fashion.

Receive and accept the right guidance.

Many times, in a public scandal, you discover who has your best interest, loves you unconditionally and will give you the best advice they know how. On the other hand, you realize who may have never truly had your back, was only along for the ride when things were good or who want to be attached to your drama for selfish reasons. Stick close to professional supporters such as legal and PR counselors skilled and trained in helping you mop up the mess and to the loved ones who give sincere guidance. Avoid the ambulance chasers who only want to be affiliated with your failure because it gives them a chance at 15 minutes of fame or a potential payday.

Come back with credibility.

Your image took a blow and you’re going to have to handle your comeback with care. The ultimate test of a full recovery shouldn’t be whether the public accepts you back as you once were. Even years after a scandal takes place, it can linger in the memory of the public if your comeback plan is not intact. The court of public opinion is tough but most people love a comeback and will often root for a fallen brand that is making a real attempt at earning the public’s trust again grounded by the truth. A successful reintroduction effort can make the scandal a vague memory. Don’t expect this overnight. Don’t even expect to be a loved as you once were. Just expect that slowly but surely, if you are true to your talents and consistently building toward the future, the public will grant you a measure of grace.

I will say more about the keys to damage control and the do’s and don’ts with any crisis situation in my next two posts. Stay tuned!

Don’t Be Surprised By Imposters

They say imitation is the best form of flattery. Yeah, uhh…no it isn’t. It’s actually the best form of personal brand impersonation.

Last week, I met with a fellow public relations educator exploring research opportunities to collaboratively write about issues in communication related to diversity, leadership and innovation. We’d never met before so he did what any decent, well-meaning, respectable person would do in today’s age – he Googled me. From there, he found my Twitter profile then let me know he followed me. I went to Twitter to find him and noticed his profile was not listed among my followers. That gave me a hunch to search for my Twitter profile. I found my profile (@aerialellis) then scrolled down the search page and discovered @ellisrpb, a profile with my name, photo, bio and location that does not belong to me.

I was surprised and I shouldn’t have been. Recently, Twitter revamped their policies on how online abuse is reported due to the increases in reports of impersonation, imposters, offensive tweets and harassment. (source: Washington Post)

Bad Twitter

In my case, the imposter had tweets and retweets from and to my followers but the content didn’t reflect my authentic voice. Now, I’m no celebrity or politician among the highly targeted victims of imposter accounts but I am a business owner and an educator. I can’t afford to have my voice mistaken.

I’ve used Google Alerts from the moment the feature was launched and this false page never made it to my inbox. I’ve sent nearly 30,000 tweets since joining in 2008 but have never received a DM or tweet from a follower asking “is this really you?” I’ve monitored client accounts and moderated Twitter chats but never noticed someone else portraying me.

I immediately went to Twitter’s support page for reporting phony accounts. The process was very easy and the fake Aerial was removed in less than 24 hours.

A few things to note to avoid personal brand impersonation via social media:

Take action immediately. Why wait? Find out how to remove the fraudulent page and follow the necessary steps. You may have to wait on a response while they investigate everything but don’t give up. Stay on the case.

Monitor your name. Be on the lookout for online mentions of your name. Set up an alert through Google or other free services that will notify you when you name appears online. Though I can’t recall a time the fake Aerial appeared in my alerts, they are a safeguard for knowing what’s out there. Periodically, you should do a manual online search for your name to see if anything malicious pops up. This is how I found the fake Aerial.

Keep security tight. When you switch phones and computers, clear out your passwords. When you create passwords, make them strong with a mix of letters, numbers and symbols. Completely log off social media sites instead of only closing the browser.

Don’t be surprised by an imposter account. It happens. Your reputation can be negatively impacted by an imposter but don’t make it easy for them.

Personal Brands I Like: Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg may not have a personal brand known in households near and far but she works for one – Facebook. As chief operating officer of the $23 billion social network company, she’s has been at the forefront of helping Facebook grow up by addressing major public scrutiny over revised privacy terms. Recently, she’s topped Forbes Magazine’s “100 Most Powerful Women” and Fortune Magazine’s “Most Powerful Women” lists along with any other women-to-watch roll call you can name. Read more about why this power broker is the MVP at one of the world’s most innovative companies.