According to UrbanDictionary.com, a “catfish” is “someone who pretends to be someone they are not online to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.” While the 2010 film documentary of the same name brought the issue to light in the mainstream, the most recently publicized case of catfishing involving a University of Notre Dame football player highlights all the reasons why due diligence must be put in place when interacting with online personas, particularly from a marketing standpoint.
The story of Mant Te’o, defensive linebacker for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, is emblematic of the deceit that can very easily take place in the online world. In case you haven’t heard his story, Te’o is now at the heart of an Internet hoax involving him, a fake girlfriend, and that fake girlfriend’s death. After establishing an online relationship with an individual whom Te’o assumed was female (and real) on the microblogging site Twitter, the football player was recently presented with evidence that says otherwise. Unfortunately, reality online is not always the same as it is offline.
Due to Te’o’s notoriety as a standout player with one of college football’s most storied programs, his girlfriend’s death soon became common knowledge amongst sports fans, particularly since he attributed his on-field success to her legacy. With her mere existence being part of a much larger hoax at this point, it is a sad fact that those whom we interact with on social media sites and online forums may not always be who they say they are. Just as Te’o’s image has undoubtedly been affected by this hoax, so too can a brand’s image be negatively impacted by deceitful practices online.
In the legal Internet marketing world, branding is a major component of any successful advertising campaign. With the advent and widespread use of social networks, it is now even easier for brands and large companies to stumble over one of the numerous pitfalls that come along with those social networks. Interacting with customers and responding to online critiques of one’s business are certainly important and deserve attention, but brands should always be mindful that they are talking to a faceless entity, particularly if they’ve had no evident real world interaction with said entity.
In order to protect one’s image and prevent Internet impostors from sullying a company’s name, it is important to always employ the same customer service techniques in the online world as you do in the real world. Be responsive, and remember that the customer is always right, even if the customer is being unreasonable. You never know who will see that interaction, and how it will affect that individual’s perception of your brand.
Bad customer service can serve as fodder for competitors and other critics to drag your company’s name through the mud. However, approaching each individual situation with caution and proper attention can go much farther for your branding in the long run.
If you suspect you’re dealing with a fake profile, don’t panic. Treat that individual the same way you would any other customer or past client. Consistency in this regard can mean the difference a minor bump in the publicity road and what happened to Manti Te’o.