There is possibly no trend less relevant to my day-to-day than #DeflateGate, yet I am fascinated by the trend – from the sheer volume of information available to me to the experts weighing in.

The topic is off-limits to no one, and it’s unavoidable in the lead up to the Super Bowl. Fandom aside, I am more interested in the trend itself than the implications on the game at the moment. Of particular interest for marketers is how it illustrates the effectiveness of social media as a content generator and discussion engine.


Tweets per day for deflate gate

For those of you who have managed to avoid the wall-to-wall coverage and Super Bowl buzz, the scandal boils down to the AFC championship game. The discovery that the Patriots had under-inflated balls blew up the Internet; the implications of cheating alongside less than average fumble rates, coupled with the potential impact on the Patriots’ record and the records of their players, make this a massive story.

The NFL will not likely complete the investigation in time to take action before the Super Bowl, making the violation’s impact on the most-watched sporting event of the year null. The coverage illustrates a simple WOM principle: it matters right now only because we are talking about it.

With millions of tweets to pull content from, players, industry experts, scientists, and fans alike are all weighing in. Audience opinions and thoughts are broadcast on news sites, aggregators, networks (and now the WOMMA blog). Even without the participation of influencers, the conversation is in an amplification spiral, with each news piece pulling from social content in turn feeding that social conversation further.

Influencers are weighing in, though. King of the Nerds, Neil Degrasse Tyson, had his say. He then reassessed his initial science and SNL opened with the scandal – a true indicator of pop culture saturation. Much to the lament of sports fans, the NFL, and the Patriots, this tertiary news is currently out-performing the actual game in trends.

Patriots press conference on deflate gate

So what can we take away from this WOM trend?

  1. Listen and be where your fans are. The NFL, by not commenting and engaging (aside from one long winded response), has enabled the discussion to run rampant without them.
  2. No one retweets a long-winded response. Video content, sound-bytes and images are going to do better than the long-winded official response. If you want it to remain part of the conversation, make sure your contributions are consumable.
  3. If you can’t comment, engage people who can. Interestingly enough, the Patriots are the most vocal of all brands on the topic, tweeting and retweeting their experts’ and team members’ positive and defensive content. However, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” doesn’t always apply. It certainly doesn’t apply when your brand is under fire.
  4. Expect to make a dent, not turn the tide. Negative content about the scandal is being engaged with MUCH more frequently than anything that dilutes the impact of the scandal or defends the Patriots. This is normal; any brand with detractors sees this happen daily.
  5. Twitter and Facebook are still relevant for news – and as a content discovery engine. It’s easy to forget that social content is consumed outside of social sites. News outlets post screen captures, and it is important that social media is an integral part of your news and press release strategy.

In times of brand crisis like #deflategate, remember the conversation is going to happen, whether you choose to be part of it or not. Smart marketers don’t fight the tide, but reach out to their brand ambassadors and influencers to help get in front of the story and drive more positive conversation.

Originally posted at

Rachel Ullstrom Account Director, Social Technologies