What is a network news anchorman other than a salesman? It seems their jobs have become less about reporting the important news we need to know, and more about ‘selling’ the stories that get us to tune in. It is a business after all.
But somewhere along the line it was not enough for Brian Williams just to sell the story: The news anchor had become a commodity that himself had to be marketed and sold. The mystique of dodging bullets and stepping over dead bodies was all part of the commodity personified.
That Brian Williams even felt the need to tell tall tales about being under fire from a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq in 2003 or seeing dead bodies float past his New Orleans hotel room in 2005 is as tragic as it is curious. How much was unspoken pressure from the network and his competitors, or a deep insecurity about living up to the feats of a Murrow, Cronkite or Jennings?
It all leads to the inevitable question: How many other news anchors who never earned their ‘credibility chops’ as investigative reporters or foreign correspondents will now be caught out by more inquisitive ‘non-professionals’ on social media?
Social crowd-reporters undress the news emperor
Williams is being held to account by hundreds of thousands of regular people across Twitter, Facebook, and beyond. The hashtag #BrianWilliamsMisremembers is a hilarious Twitter meme photoshopping the news anchor into the world’s greatest historical events.
Apart from the obvious dissonance that we’re supposed to be able to trust the integrity and honesty of someone charged with reporting the nation’s news – or what USA Today calls an “unmitigated disaster”, it’s curious that Williams was tone deaf to the possibility of being found out in an era of hypocrisy-hunting news-gatherers across social. After all, didn’t he like most of us report on Hillary Clinton’s false claim that she too had been “under fire” in a war zone?
Fifteen SECONDS to Fame or Shame
We live in an era where cameras are everywhere, a time when everyone is a reporter, and we’re all connected instantly on the social mobile web. It’s a great leveling, a time when everyone can see through any ruse, false claim, or whiff of hypocrisy. It’s no longer Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes: It’s fifteen seconds to fame – or shame.
As NBC News brass now investigates latest reports that Williams’ award-winning Hurricane Katrina coverage was also a work of fiction, it is just one more confirmation that very little can be trusted – without the crowd-sourced confirmation offered by Twitter, Facebook and other social channels.
Study after study shows that people are 12 times more likely to trust “someone like them” on their social networks over and above a news anchor, a politician, or a brand.
People are trusting people who don’t have a vested interest in an outcome.
Brian Williams’ vested interest was simple: Keep those 9 million people tuning in to the NBC Nightly News every day, and better yet, attract even more by displaying his wit, charm, and as it happens, propensity for gross exaggeration, on late night talk shows.
Now there’s very little reason to believe anyone selling anything – soap, a cause, or the news – at least without independent validation by tens of thousands of people without a direct interest in the outcome.
Brian Williams’ world of hurt is a warning and an opportunity: Your customers are watching you on social.
They and their closest million friends are looking for gaps between what you say, and what you do. They are assuming you’re ‘selling them’ and they don’t want to be sold – if they even believe what you say about your product.
Your integrity is proportional to your profit margin.
Understand who you are talking to – and understand too your missteps will be amplified. The good news is that your authenticity will also go viral, because faux pas like this show how badly people crave it.
Want to use social media to boost your sales? Stop selling. Don’t exaggerate. Be truthful, be genuine, engage people in authentic conversation, and protect your integrity. Regular folk on social media can and be will be your biggest ambassadors – or they will put you out to pasture, pitchforks and all.
Melinda Wittstock is the founder and CEO of Verifeed. She is also a former news anchor and host for the BBC, CNBC, MSNBC and ABC News.