November 2, 2009

A Lesson From Letterman

David Letterman confessing his affair

When David Letterman sat behind his famous desk, faced his viewers, and told them he had had confessed to having several affair with his female staff, the news media and blogosphere went wild. Media analysts, feminists, workplace experts –all weighed in with what this would mean for the late night fixture’s career. But those of us who practice and follow social media, could predict the outcome: the scandal would not hurt, the talk show star’s ratings.

This old media king took a page from a new media playbook. In admitting his transgressions, Letterman was following the new rules of social media:

Direct communication with your “followers”:
Letterman did not hide behind an official statement issued by his spokespeople or the studio. He sat in front of the camera, made eye contact with the millions of people who, in essence, “follow” him every night and he told them what was happening. Direct communication is key in the new media world. Followers, fans, customers all expect direct interaction with the people and the brands with which they interact via social media. PR reps, intermediaries and corporate spokespeople don’t fly in this new world.

Transparency: the new rules require complete transparency. Customers know the brands they love have flaws and they can forgive them, IF, their brands come clean. Social media is not about hiding; it’s about honest dialogue. If there’s a problem with customer service, admit it, fix it and move on. That’s exactly what Letterman did on national television.

Trust: social media is all about building trust. Letterman inherently understands that. He cashed in on the trust he had built with his loyal viewers and it paid off.

Regardless of how you feel about Letterman’s behavior, there is no denying that his actions paid off. According to the ratings, the late night show has seen little to no effect on its ratings.

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