Fake news has been in the media outlook for years. However, in recent times, its proliferation is not only affecting traditional media but digital platforms as well. A study on the perception of fake news revealed that roughly 80% of Americans aged 18-to-29 years believe fake news is a major problem. Similarly, 75% of Americans aged 30-to-49 and 73% of those aged 50-to-64 hold a similar perception. This implies that the content people consume today has a substantial level of misinformation.
As brand leaders focus on increasing brand awareness, they should also protect their brands against fake news spreading on social networks and traditional media. Fake news as a result of communication errors, editorial errors, or poor internal decisions has a detrimental effect on a brand.
This is because it can tarnish a brand’s reputation and ruin consumer trust. In fact, most people consider terminating their relationship with a company that spreads false content or runs ads on a deceptive site.
To win the fight against fake news, brands should learn how to monitor, respond, and successfully mitigate the damages done by fake news. In this article, we’ve put together 6 actionable tips that brand leaders can implement to protect and defend their brands against fake news.
1. Monitor social platforms proactively
Social platforms are the biggest resource for public reviews on brands and products. This is where customers provide positive feedback or rant about a company.
In some cases, you might encounter fake accounts pretending to be affiliated with your brand. Such fake accounts are often used to spread fake news or to extort your audience. To prevent such crises, every brand should put social monitoring technologies in place.
By actively monitoring your brand's social media accounts, and those of the key stakeholders, you can catch relevant information for PR crisis management. A good social monitoring tool helps by providing information on brand mentions, tracking relevant hashtags, analyzing keywords, and discovering trending topics related to your brand.
When a brand is aware of what is happening online in real-time, the communication team can identify potential crisis scenarios on time. This way, brands can proactively control what happens as opposed to reacting after a PR crisis strikes.
Starbucks fell prey to fake news when a Starbucks Dreamer Day ad started doing the rounds on social media which promised a 40% off to all “undocumented Americans”. The brand had to quickly respond by releasing a tweet saying, “We're sorry but you've been misinformed. Starbucks is not sponsoring any such event."
2. Build a rapid response team
When an online PR crisis occurs, timing is everything. In a world filled with fake news, you need to act fast by responding as soon as a negative conversation around your brand surfaces. The best approach here would be creating a company culture that allows you to respond immediately and detect fake news involving your brand.
Ideally, every brand should enlist several employees, who as part of the PR team, will be actively involved in monitoring and responding to fake news.
A well trained and informed response team can quickly jump on crucial conversations affecting the brand before they go viral. By doing so, they help tame the spread of misinformation and disinformation that can damage the brand’s image.
3. Create a crisis communication protocol
Every brand strategy requires a clear action plan for managing PR disasters such as fake news.
In the face of fake news that poses a threat to your brand, you cannot wait to gather all stakeholders to identify an appropriate course of action. It will be too late and your efforts might not pay off. Instead, brands should set clear communication protocols and guidelines for responding to such events. The most important thing is to identify what should be done and who should do it when a fake news situation arises.
Additionally, focus on how you should respond and which platform to use. The response message is only as good as how it is delivered. For this reason, focus on choosing the most appropriate platform. For instance, engaging the source of fake news directly is generally not a good idea. Brands should instead consider using communication platforms where they have established a strong following.
If the news is spreading on multiple platforms, release a statement disavowing the fake news at the earliest convenience. At this time, your brand is under intense scrutiny; so, you must defend it with facts and question the legitimacy of all deceiving claims. A PR crisis communication plan should help you with this. Besides staying factually accurate, ensure your response respects confidentiality, does not contain offensive content, and are thoughtful.
4. Investigate and share your side of the story
If you realize that your brand is responsible for an incident that led to the fake news, owning up is a great way to manage the crisis. If your brand is not directly liable to the news, do not remain silent.
Leaving people in the dark does more harm than good. Keep your internal team, clients, prospects, and the larger community informed by letting them know what steps your brand is taking to manage the situation. The most important thing at this point is being transparent by explaining what happened, what led to the event, and the actions you’re taking to fix the situation.
Upon finalizing your investigation, update all stakeholders with a clear answer regarding the news. If the fake news got out of hand and spread beyond your control, make a public statement so that the online community can understand everything that happened.
Coca-Cola was quick to address their side of the story when a fake news story about them shutting down a Dasani plant after discovering a parasite in the water started doing the rounds. The brand’s statement read, “The source of this false and inflammatory information about our brand is a hoax news website. There is no recall of Dasani being conducted in the U.S.”
5. Establish an employee advocacy program
Employees are the most valuable resources for any brand that wants to amplify its online presence and protect its image. A report on employee advocacy shows that most people trust regular employees (53%) as compared to a company’s CEO (47%). Additionally, more people (65%) have even greater trust in the company’s technical experts. These statistics are a clear indication that a brand’s internal team is best placed to become its most trusted advocate.
Investing in the right employee advocacy program positions your brand as an authoritative thought leader. However, not every employee can become an active influencer, so start by identifying potential brand ambassadors and provide them with the necessary training and resources.
Hold training programs to motivate all team members to ramp up your brand’s online presence by providing value to the public. This does not mean employees should be talking about your brand every time- it might sound like you’re indirectly sharing constant sales pitches. Instead, ask them to use social media to share their expertise. Enriching the online community is great for building their credibility and enhancing overall brand image.
Although developing an efficient employee advocacy program takes time, its long-term benefits are well worth the wait. A good advocacy program increases the influence of employees. When they debunk lies promoted by misinformed parties or fake profiles using real, verified information, people are more likely to believe them. This not only protects your brand against misinformation but also increases the level of consumer trust.
6. Create an online reputation
The best way to protect your brand is by maintaining a positive online reputation. When you have a community of loyal followers that trust your brand, it becomes easier to keep your brand intact even when misrepresented or misquoted in the media.
If fake news about your brand starts spreading, your loyal base of customers will cast doubt because they know your brand. In a controversy, a dedicated community of loyal followers will step in to protect and defend your brand.
Some effective ways of earning a positive online reputation include:
- Use authentic content to tell your brand’s story
- Always perform a fact-check before publishing any story
- Identify data sources and cite appropriately before publishing content
- Asking customers to provide honest reviews on social media
In a world with over 4.57 billion active internet users, loyal fans are incredibly important for protecting your brand’s health on the internet. So, make sure you focus on building a solid reputation across all platforms on the web.
Given the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Changi Airport proactively took to social media, educating people on the precautions they’re taking to keep the airport safe.
As the online community grows, misinformation and disinformation are increasingly becoming part of online life. Unfortunately, it is difficult to regulate the kind of content that people share online, so the problem of fake news is here to stay. For this reason, brands must ensure all stakeholders are well prepared to combat fake news before it tarnishes their reputation. It should be within the company’s best interests to proactively defend the brand image by dealing with fake news aggressively and timely.
By protecting your brand against fake news, you will be protecting your future earning potential. So, use the above tips to increase consumer trust and protect your brand before things spin out of control.
Adela Belin is a content marketer and blogger. She is passionate about sharing stories with the hope to make a difference in people's lives and contribute to their personal and professional growth. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.