Posted: 01 Sep. 2019 5 min. read

Fake news! Managing reputation in an era of disinformation

This month the BBC announced plans to bring together a team of news and tech companies in a bid to fight disinformation, or ‘fake news’.

In recent years, fake news has been magnified by the ubiquity of social media. It was named ‘word of the year’ in 2017. It was the subject of an 18 month inquiry by the UK Government’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee. And its presence and impacts have dominated global headlines.

Much has been made of the impact of fake news on voter behaviour. But also of paramount concern is the impact it can have on businesses where distorted facts can mislead and influence key stakeholders, tarnish a brand, and have significant commercial consequences. For example, earlier this year shares in a UK company fell by 11 per cent following rumours on social media it was facing financial difficulties.

Fake news can also have an unquantifiable impact inside businesses, disrupting and pulling valuable employee time away from business as usual as they manage the situation and respond to internal questions and challenges. Furthermore it is increasingly regarded as a risk and therefore shaping or influencing business decisions.

The landscape in which businesses operate and communicate has already been radically transformed by social media. Fake news is another challenge to be cognisant of and prepare for. It has never been easier for others to challenge and influence the way people think about a brand and for negative stories, even those that aren’t true, to gain rapid traction about the world.

So what can businesses do?

Despite its challenges, social media can be a critical tool to protect and manage reputation if it’s used well. Here are four ways businesses can use it:

1.   Know what is being said about you.

Social listening platforms come in all shapes and sizes. Have a handle on what is being said about you – true or otherwise – and who the main voices are. This can shape how you respond and act pre-emptively before things heat up.

2.   Have a plan and process for escalating threats, including disinformation.

A businesses social media capability can be huge, with teams all over the world managing customer care, marketing and PR activity. Use it to spot threats and get them to the right people quickly so you can decide how to respond.

3.   Rebut, rebut, rebut.

Don’t allow an information vacuum. If there is negative or incorrect information circulating that is (or could be) damaging your brand, strike early and rebut. There are opportunities for businesses to reinforce positive perceptions of their brand by dealing quickly and effectively with disinformation. Doing so can restore, and even enhance, customer confidence.

4. Make sure your people know what disinformation is, how to spot it and how to respond to it.

Senior managers and leaders need to buy into the plan for identifying and responding to fake news. Doing this in peacetime will save you using precious minutes in the heat of the moment.

This is an important time for you to embrace social media and harness its power for your benefit. It, and the challenges of disinformation, are here to stay and you should adapt accordingly now.

Contact Emily Morton to discuss the issues raised in this blog post or chat more generally about crisis communication and reputation management.

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