When it comes to protecting your brand reputation, being pulled into a false narrative represents both immediate and long-term risk. The media has always been a key ingredient to the spread of information – and disinformation. As technology and social media platforms have given rise to both the average person’s ability to express and share their points of view and new “media” outlets to publish content (that may or may not be legitimate), public relations pros need to be increasingly aware of conversations their companies or clients are connected to and prepared to course correct when a potentially damaging or inaccurate story begins to pick up steam.
What is “Fake News” really?
While misinformation and disinformation are similar, the clearest distinction between the two is intent. Misinformation happens when the person believes what they are sharing to be true. Disinformation, on the other hand, is a purposeful attempt to manufacture and spread inaccurate information.
Effective disinformation is easy to believe – which is why brands need to think strategically about how to respond and form a proactive plan for these scenarios in advance of an actual occurrence. If consumers are believing disinformation about your company, that means there is an information void, and it is your responsibility to fill the gap. Craft a plan before you become a victim. Time will very much be of the essence if you find yourself playing defense. One study found that fake news travels six times faster on Twitter than the facts. And if your response timeline is being driven by a news cycle, you’re likely too late. The goal is to prevent the disinformation from elevating to the level where it is being shared by media.
Proactively Defending Your Brand Reputation
You can prep by scenario planning around groups or narratives that might come forward with the intention of harming your reputation or using your organization as a pawn in a political or social movement. Then, determine how to inoculate your company against those threats.
In addition to the more direct communications-related planning, your issues response team should be cross-functional and include experts from your media relations and marketing teams, potential spokespeople and, of course, your social media managers. No longer is monitoring social media enough – the dark web is the place to stop a disinformation campaign before it reaches the masses.
Your crisis plan should serve as your roadmap for proactive issues management. Therefore, it needs to include owned content in a variety of formats that can be quickly dispersed on multiple channels. The best approach to ensure that false information doesn’t take a foothold among your audience is to counter with facts that clearly dispute the allegations at their root. Plainly articulate reasons for your position, your values and publish owned content to make your views known and available to stakeholders.
When it comes to changing the narrative, know that not all people will be persuadable. Focus on the moveable middle. If you are engaging journalists to help tell your story, it’s best to go to the reporters you’ve already spent time building trust and relationships with. Always – but especially if you’re battling disinformation – fact check your work and provide transparency and resources that make it easy for journalists and readers to confirm that you’ve done your due diligence and are providing accurate information.
The specific vulnerabilities of your brand will vary based on your company’s existing reputation and bank of trust with your consumers, your industry and other cultural or timely factors. But the basics of assembling the ingredients for a swift response apply regardless of what type of organization you lead.
Our Crisis and Issues Management practice can help you identify potential threats and develop a proactive strategy and plan for a potential disinformation campaign targeting your brand. We can also assist in the event your brand has already been pulled into an inaccurate narrative.