Work on Your Brand, So You're Resistant to Fake News

I expect that (also Dutch) companies will more often become the victim of fake news in the near future. Here's what you can do against this modern curse.

| Presscloud editorial

What to do against fake news?

This does not come without consequences: fake news has a negative impact on the credibility and growth of your business. However, there are ways to arm yourself against fake news. Building a strong reputation is one of those methods. But this is not the only thing you can do against fake news. Below, I explain how you can arm yourself against fake news.

Would you rather watch a video (of 20 minutes) than read this blog? In my presentation at Digital Wednesday, I explain how to arm yourself against fake news. It includes 9 steps, 3 conditions, and 1 (unethical) trick against fake news.

Fake news happens to you

I have bad news for you. Fake news is something that happens to companies and will happen more frequently. Internet trolls looking for attention, wanting to strengthen their political message, or influence stock prices don't care about your business.

Fake news is the result of conflicting interests. Maybe someone is out to destroy you, your company, or the industry you work in. You only have limited influence on this. The more outspoken your brand is, the more likely you are to become a victim of fake news. And brands have to be more outspoken: advertising is becoming political and purpose marketing is popular for a reason. Brands are increasingly seeking societal relevance.

Starbucks and Pepsi

Two well-known brands that have been victims of fake news are Starbucks and PepsiCo. An interview with PepsiCo's CEO was selectively quoted. A viral fragment emerged, in which she supposedly called for Trump supporters to leave. As a result, Trump supporters called for a boycott of the brand. Pepsi did not respond to this fake news. Not only did PepsiCo's stock plummet, but associated brands such as Pizza Hut and Taco Bell suffered as well. Ignoring fake news is not an option.

Right-wing activists spread the news that Starbucks would provide free coffee to undocumented (or illegal) immigrants. The company quickly and decisively acted on social media. This response can be seen in the images below. The Starbucks brand, however, was still affected by the fake news attack. Nonetheless, this American-friendly manner of responding defuses, makes a brand more likable, and seems an effective form of crisis communication.

{Image: Starbucks' response to fake news}

Repairing an image takes energy

Of course, there are things you can do if your business is the victim of fake news. You need to monitor social media channels, so you know if something is being said about your brand. And come up with a prompt and adequate response. Informing customers in a timely manner and having employees respond on their own social channels is also advisable.

Steve Bannon – the spin doctor behind Donald Trump and Boris Johnson – goes even further. He ‘hacks’ algorithms. Johnson, the current Prime Minister of the UK, once toured London in a bus, spreading the fake news that the EU was costing the British £350 million per week. Money that could go to healthcare instead. By talking in new interviews about how much he loves the bus, Johnson generates different search results for the combination Johnson + Bus. Clever.

{Image: Boris Johnson with the bus}

Yet I have bad news for Johnson. It costs people so much energy to change an existing image that a rectification rarely has the desired effect. In other words: once fake news appears and spreads, the harm is often already done. That Johnson manages to influence the search results will probably not have much effect. It only affects people who do not yet know about his first message, that the EU costs £350 million per week. In short: good for future history students; for now, it does not help much.

Building reputation helps you

Fake news is a modern plague that can happen to your business and against which you can arm yourself to a limited extent. The effects will be noticeable for your business because it takes a lot of energy for people to adjust an incorrect image. Remember the saying: where there's smoke, there's fire.

The difficulty in adjusting an existing image is also good news for companies. If you manage to build a certain image, fake news will have less effect on your organization. If you are known to your target audience as a credible knowledge partner, a new message that contradicts this reputation will be less successful. PR can help you with this.

In conclusion: ensure transparency

To be resistant to fake news, do not only work continuously on the reputation of your company, create a playbook for such reputation disasters, and ensure the CEO and communication department are aligned (and can find each other). But also make sure transparency is one of the core values of your organization. If you are questioned or need to give an account, it would be nice if your reaction does not take too long and openness is provided quickly. A transparent culture also helps prevent potential misconduct because you are open to external views.

(Do you see how in this way, communication is not the end of a process, but an integral part of your business strategy? And how it can prevent modern plagues? Therefore, do not let the intern handle the communication policy alone.)

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