Perception is reality and Big Bird could help you win too

Nick Augustine is a legal industry publicist at Augustine Legal PR and works with law firms to engage clients and develop business. Nick’s marketing, advertising and media team helps attorneys generate original content to share their knowledge, skills and abilities. Nick earned a communications and rhetorical studies degree from Marquette University and a law degree from The John Marshall Law School where he is an active alumni board member.

President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign employed a strong social media campaign to leverage social proof among voters. I believe that many of the voters, who re-elected an incumbent president with an arguably failing record, did so because their collective friends and families on Facebook liked and shared images and messages to which voters would respond favorably. Using Big Bird to tug at emotions made it easy to override arguments over more sophisticated issues and policy.

Trial lawyers should all take classes in psychology, marketing and social media to help win more cases and leverage perception to earn more clients and win in courts of public opinion as well as law.

The same thing happened when Rahm Emanuel ran for mayor of Chicago. With endorsements from Mr. Obama, Emanuel used a very similar looking and feeling social media campaign and won the election. Certainly social media is not the only factor in influencing votes, but when it comes to “groupthink” and young and otherwise less-experienced voters, Facebook and Twitter seem to help win elections.

A shrewd social media campaign does not necessarily ensure a win. The trial of Casey Anthony used the power of Facebook and Twitter, with great help from the media, to make Anthony look guilty as sin; yet she was acquitted. Had the jury instruction been to convict based on looking guilty, Anthony would have likely been sent up the river.

Few people read newspapers today and instead get their information from their friends and family on social media where any statement is fair game regardless of truth or inherent reliability. For attorneys using social media to promote their cases and rally support for legal theories or causes, the challenge remains: run a classy campaign and stick to the issues, or pull the “Big Bird” card.

Closing arguments are perfect examples of the use of emotion to justify results. Statements such as “the defendant could have been your son or daughter” are not far off from the proffered ousting of Big Bird and his friends on Sesame Street.

The marketing and advertising industries leverage emotion to persuade consumers to purchase products and the same happens today when we elect a candidate to office, persuade a jury to rule or promote a legal theory or event among the public. Understanding how people perceive information and make decisions is a key to better knowing how to win in the court of public opinion as well as in law.


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