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USADA versus Lance Armstrong: A Battle of PR

Relations with the public are necessary. They can help control a message, they can help boost messaging, they can also be handled through social media. That is, unless you rely upon traditional tactics because you haven’t realized we are in the 21st century and the entire communications game have been flipped upside down.

The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) relied upon traditional messaging where they could attempt to control the message. However, with Twitter around, we know that wasn’t going to happen. A part of me believes Lance Armstrong knew that as well. He could win the publicity battle and that was all that matters, because love him or hate him, you were talking about him.

That fateful night that Lance Armstrong broke the news that he would no longer fight USADA in court, he went to Twitter with the message (Kudos to Lance’s team for tracking it using Bitly).

Why Did Lance Use Twitter to Push His Announcement?

Because 10s of thousand of retweets and thousands of favorites go much further than not saying anything at all. USADA chose to wait until the next day (a major fail for any company in today’s market). USADA continued to not say anything via Twitter, which has become the go-to platform for large announcements. Shaq announced his retirement via Twitter saying his fans deserved to be the first to know. However, USADA with their archaic methodology lacked tweets while Lance when on with his life. Although USADA may not recognize this, it had a negative effect on their social efforts. Had they properly prepared themselves, they could have used the extra awareness to push other initiatives they work on such as the Paralympics. However, they went dark.

USADA has tweeted enough in the past few days to fill a thimble. Yes, over the past week they have managed a paltry 5 tweets. One of the tweets focused on their punishment towards Lance Armstrong and linking to their page. No conversation, no interest in the typical user or the cycling community at large who had many questions. Unfortunately, I failed to grab a screenshot of the evidence, but at one point USADA had 4 of the top 10 trending terms on Twitter the night the news broke, yet they felt they didn’t need to address it. This shows a lack of social awareness and just how powerful it is to make this list. However, Lance knew what it meant… and so, he tweeted on.

This paid off big for Lance, because, like I said, love him or hate him you continued to talk about him. USADA failed to address today’s communication habits and the chatter about them drifted off while Lance was able to keep his continuing. Yes, Lance Armstrong is a bigger brand however, USADA had a moment to shine and instead of shining like the star they believe they are, they didn’t capitalize thus allowing their target market to forget them and ultimately, other quality information that they needed to get to cyclists. The return on the publicity went heavily against USADA, which now has 5,500 follows while Lance Armstrong announced that his non-profit, LiveStrong, following the breaking news had funneled in 25x more donations over the day before.

In the end, Travis Tygart looks foolish, USADA needs to get on board with social media, Lance is whoever you want him to be and cancer research won here. In my book, that’s a great return.

ROI Doesn’t Always Mean Fiscal

The data above shows how lack of preparation can stop your brand from continuing exposure. USADA had a chance to create thousands more followers that could have spread USADA’s message to their own followers using the multiplier effect. However, like many brands today, they weren’t prepared. Lance Armstrong, using his social savviness, was able to roll out a huge win for LiveStrong.

Businesses today need to have this preparation. Whether you are a startup, corporate or a non-profit, knowing how to empower your community is critical to your marketing success. Like PR and advertising, social media is another effort of marketing as a whole, yet so many blatantly disregard it because they concern themselves with the “ROI” or measurable monetary gain. As we see in the case of Lance Armstrong and USADA, empowering your community can’t always be measured in monetary rewards but can most certainly go the distance in regards to conversation, thus increasing awareness through impressions as well connectivity. Unfortunately for USADA, they didn’t get to capitalize on the connections. Maybe next time folks, maybe next time you put a target on an elite athlete’s back, you will be prepared to go social.

Danny Schotthoefer is the digital strategist/community manager at an advertising agency in Bozeman, Montana. He is also a TEDx event organizer and an avid Oregon Ducks and Portland Trailblazers fan. You can also find him running via Nike+ and cycling via Strava – he is highly social. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn. Forewarning: He Talks A LOT!

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