If any topic has dominated the media conversation in the past six months, it’s hoax news. These stories are insidious and powerful, spreading across the internet like wildfire with real-world consequences. It’s easy to worry about how one can deal with fake news business threats.
If you worry about your brand coming under fire because of hoaxes, we’ll let you know what you can expect. We’ve also got reputation protection tips to help you navigate a crisis successfully.
THE REAL-WORLD REPUTATIONAL RISK
A business’ reputation can come under fire when embroiled in a false news scandal. Even scarier, this can create real danger for your employees or customers. One needs to look no further than the “Pizzagate” conspiracy, which came to a head when a lone gunman entered a D.C. area pizzeria and fired at least one shot from a semi-automatic assault rifle.
The conspiracy theory was born out of the John Podesta DNC email hack last year. It alleged that the Clinton family and various Democratic elites were involved in an international child sex trafficking ring. A handful of pizzerias were alleged to be fronts for the dubious activities, most notably Comet Ping Pong. The theory was debunked, but that didn’t stop Edgar Welch from sauntering in to investigate fully armed. Before this incident, Comet Ping Pong received several death threats over the phone.
Communities in Reddit and 4chan put the theory together, but it quickly gained traction when picked up by Alex Jones (InfoWars) and Michael G. Flynn (son of the recently resigned National Security Advisor). This is, of course, how these websites gain credibility: written for shock and virality, their proliferation suggests truthfulness.
Fake News Brand Safety on Google Search
Because fake stories gain legitimacy by going viral, related search queries can trend alongside them. This may cause Google to autocomplete queries that mention your brand, pointing searchers toward the offending story. There’s been a lot of writing about how Google’s autocomplete can help falsehoods seem legitimate. A trending story can easily be served to your customers, then, simply by typing your brand’s name and nothing else into the search bar.
Autocomplete isn’t the only threat. Google search results privilege trending stories, which occupy key real estate at the top of the results page. The same can be said for Facebook search. Both these platforms sort results algorithmically. This means that if your brand is enmeshed in a news scandal that’s spreading like wildfire, searchers will see it before you can react.
How Advertising Affects Brand Reputation
The final threat that fake stories can post to your brand is a smaller issue, but one you should still anticipate. Besides pushing an agenda, viral fake news sites exist to make ad money. If advertising for your business appears on these sites, some readers may take it as an endorsement.
While filtering fake news sources is difficult, it’s important that your business avoid business with hoax websites. Fiat Chrysler resolved to avoid advertising on such websites by maintaining a fake news blacklist. You can maintain a blacklist as well. Alternatively, use ad networks that don’t do business with them.
WHAT TO DO: THE FAKE NEWS BRAND SAFETY STRATEGY
Speed is Essential to Brand Reputation Management
If you don’t carefully monitor the conversation around your brand, you’d better start! These stories spread fast. You need a system in place to catch fake news quickly. Use a community monitoring tool like Hootsuite to monitor sentiment. Tools will often alert you during off hours if there’s a spike in engagement, so you can always remain alert.
Have an action plan ready for PR disasters like fake news. The most important objective is to identify who will do, say, and publish what should a situation arise. You must ensure you can cut through red rape and respond rapidly in the face of falsehood. Waiting to gather stakeholders may make your efforts too late. Acting swiftly is essential to curbing a fake news business threat. If you haven’t developed an action plan, check out our guide to get started.
Speak Directly to Criticisms
When responding to a fake news story, choose a platform that fits. If fake news is spreading on social media, proactively answer questions directed to you there. You should also provide a statement as soon as possible disavowing the news.
The most important thing—besides speed—is to stay factually accurate. You can’t call another’s allegations into question when you’re not factual yourself. Stay aware that you’re under intense scrutiny. Don’t be afraid to go on the offensive—you must defend your brand and question the legitimacy of false claims.
Brand Reputation Management Relies on Community
Your community of fans serves as a sort of reputation protection insurance policy. By cultivating a community, you gain their trust. In a controversy, your fans will step in to defend you against problematic news. A dedicated community is incredibly important for a brand’s health. Make sure you cultivate community by engaging with fans and offering frequent topics of discussion. You’ll be glad you did!