It was, everyone swears, meant to be nothing more than a cute Facebook post. But it turned into a lesson in the sometimes-unexpected power of social media.
Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel were known to be vacationing in Jackson Hole, Wyo., which is also the home of upscale jeweler Tayloe Piggott Gallery. Rumors spread around town about that the famed singer had popped the question.
And so, the store posted the following to its Facebook page: “Word on the street is that Justin Timberlake proposed to Jessica Biel at the Amangani last night…we’re picking out post-engagement presents for them just in case they come in! Trying to play it cool…” The post also went out to the store’s Twitter feed.
Nobody thought much would come from it, explains gallery manager Carolyn Reeve, who notes the store Facebook page only has 50 followers.
But soon the gossip media got wind of the post, with many citing the store as an authoritative source.
“According to Wyoming’s Tayloe Piggott Jewelry, Timberlake asked Biel the all-important question on Sunday night as they stayed at the five-star Amangani resort in the state,” wrote London’s Daily Mail.
“It was just fascinating to see how quickly it spread,” says Reeve. “We were getting calls from InStyle, People, all the major media, to see if we could substantiate the rumor. We kept trying to downplay it, but once one writer picks up on it, [it’s hard to stop].”
Reeve thinks that many of the reporters mistakenly thought the couple had actually visited the store.
“That was very uncomfortable for us,” she says. “Like any jeweler, we have strict client confidentially. If they did visit us, we would never say anything.”
The store deleted the post soon afterwards, but the frenzy had already been sparked. Articles appeared on everything from gossip blogs to Glamour.com. A Google search for “Timberlake” and “Tayloe Piggott” yielded more than 5,000 results.
“People said we did this for publicity,” she says. “I say, if only I was that clever. That was not our intention and nothing we would ever be seeking.”
Since then, the couple has since publicly acknowledged their engagement. And the store posted this follow-up: “[O]ur most sincere apologies to Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel. We cannot believe where this rumor, which started out as (seemingly innocent) news that had been circulating in Jackson Hole, has been blown into a massive gossip event. … We prefer to remain the sleepy art gallery and will be posting about pretty jewels from now on…”
“This was a great education in the power of Facebook and Twitter to disseminate information,” Reeve says. “When you are posting to Facebook, it is public domain. Just because you might be located in a remote area, in the age of social media, there is so much more that is outside your control.”