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Paula Deen, Social Media, and Our New Reality

Last Wednesday, news broke of a lawsuit against Paula Deen citing a hostile work environment and racial slurs. Within hours a Twitter hashtag, #paulasbestdishes, was hijacked and quickly became a trending topic. Instead of posting tweets related to Deen’s hit show, users posted Tweets highlighting her alleged racism by making up names food dishes utilizing racial slurs. While some thought it was just funny, some thought it brought attention to the issue, and others viewed it as a veiled attempt to make racist humor that would otherwise be unacceptable, one thing is for sure – everyone instantly associated Paula Deen with racism.

By Friday, the Food Network dropped her show.

Rightly or wrongly, social media had a tremendous effect on Paula Deen. This is the reality in which we now live. Ten years ago, the allegations would have made the news, those that watched the news would have heard about it that night, and maybe talked about it the next day. Today, the world of social media has changed the news in three powerful ways:

  1. Instant: When news breaks, people hear about everything right away. There is no longer a need to read the news the next day, or even that evening.
  2. Viral: When one person hears and tells a friend, they can now tell a thousand or more people at once. News travels fast.
  3. Controlled by the Public: People have the ability to communicate the news in whatever manner they want, and it can stick. Rightly or wrongly, one Twitter feed shaped public perception of a woman, and altered her career.

Every individual, every brand, every company needs to have a very tight handle on their social media presence. Being proactive and responding quickly can go a long way in damage control, even if it can’t alter public perception completely (Just look at what it did for Delta’s CEO). Take hold of your social media presence. If you don’t know how to do that or don’t have the time, make sure you work with someone who can. The effects on your brand can be staggering.

What other ways have you noticed social media changing the way that news is reported, and what effects do you think this will have on Paula Deen in the long run?

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