George Zimmerman, the defendant in the controversial Florida Trayvon Martin murder case, has a legal team applying a new and sophisticated strategy to his defense: a social media campaign. This is a game changer. The campaign includes a just-launched website gzlegalcase.com, Twitter feed @gzlegalcase and Facebook page.
The site gives this rationale for the campaign: "First, we contend that social media in this day and age cannot be ignored. It is now a critical part of presidential politics, it has been part of revolutions in the Middle East, and it is going to be an unavoidable part of high-profile legal cases, just as traditional media has been and continues to be.”
It's a bold and risky move. We’ll be watching carefully to see whether it ultimately helps or hurts Zimmerman’s defense, but at this point it does what attorneys are charged with doing: providing a vigorous defense by the best means available.
I’ve worked closely with attorneys on dozens of civil trials in my private practice as a consultant and as VP of Communications for Fortune 100 companies, and I know the decision-making process for a move like this. I have to say, Zimmerman’s attorney Mark O’Mara, of the O’Mara Law Group in Orlando, has stepped up to the challenge.
As the O’Mara Group noted in a statement on Saturday, “We feel it would be irresponsible to ignore the robust online conversation, and we feel equally as strong about establishing a professional, responsible, and ethical approach to new media.”
From here on, the best means must include social media. How do you truly engage in an adequate defense if you’re silent in the most engaging communications channels of the world, social media?
Of course, the campaign also allows the team to communicate directly with the public and key stakeholders, without the traditional media filters.
The site outlines its reasons for existence and cleverly indicates standards it will uphold and urges readers to hold it to those standards.
The campaign has probably paid for itself by using its Twitter account to note that another site raising money for a “Defense Fund” is not legitimate.
Zimmerman himself had set up website (www.therealgeorgezimmerman.com) which was disabled last week. While it was an amateurish effort, Zimmerman’s attorneys reported in court recently that the site had raised $204,000.
The Reputation Group team and I will continue to monitor this development and its effect on the legal process for Zimmerman and for legal communications in the future.
It’s always difficult to know at the time of an event the level of its significance, but my current view is this campaign represents a tipping point for the use of social media in the legal community.
Photo by Bogieharmond