Fake news poses a threat that extends far beyond the political realm. Businesses are increasingly falling foul of the epidemic, and are doing so at risk of grave reputational damage.
Some have been the subject of targeted fake news campaigns, designed to manipulate public perceptions of the brand.
Others have circulated false information themselves, or made decision on its basis, undermining their own credibility and diminishing the efficaciousness of their own strategy.
There are steps that businesses can take to reduce the likelihood that they will become involved in a fake news scandal, and to ensure that they are prepared in the event that they are.
Do a media audit
Carrying out a media audit will help you understand what sort of content exists about you online, and will allow you to keep tabs on new content as it emerges. At a minimum, businesses should actively monitor the web by using Google alerts, and should regularly check review websites like TripAdvisor for fake information.
This better equips the business to respond in the case that something false is spread. Last year, a fake news website shared an article stating that an Indian restaurant had been found serving human meat. The story circulated widely on social media, and the owners were harassed until they issued a statement discrediting the story. By addressing the issue quickly, companies can reduce the subsequent airtime it gets.
Prepare a crisis plan
Fake news spreads quickly, especially when it is shocking or entertaining, so time is of the essence once a story breaks. Have a statement drafted and signed off by the relevant parties on file and ready to release via social channels. Crisis plans might also include pre-prepared messaging to send to media outlets refuting the claim, and internal communication strategies on how employees should react to the story if asked.
Do your homework
Businesses cannot afford to be accused of sharing fake news, given the nefarious involvement which earned the term its infamy. The NHS was accused of spreading fake news when it grossly miscalculated the cost of missed appointments to be £1bn. Ensuring that the information the business circulates, or even engages with online, is accurate is absolutely essential.
Businesses should also be wary of basing decisions and strategies on misinformation. Many companies use data collected from social media to inform decisions, without checking its veracity. There have been instances where companies have used consumer interaction data to inform strategy on a new product iteration, only to later find that the data was manipulated by bot involvement, with the product underperforming. Social data can be insightful, but to ensure credibility it should be used alongside data that has been collected elsewhere.
Build an online presence
Establishing a recognisable social media presence can be invaluable in terms of tackling fake news – followers will be more likely to question stories that don’t seem to match the brand’s personality. Further, having an engaged following that you regularly interact with means your social channels are likely to be the first place that people go when they hear a shocking story about the company. This is crucial for getting a correction message out quickly and effectively.
Aside from companies like Starbucks and Amazon, which were presumably targeted because of their enormous social and cultural presence, it’s difficult to predict whether a business will fall victim to a fake news scandal. Businesses must be vigilant about the information they collect and share, monitor their online presence, and have a crisis plan in place just in case.