5 Ways to Battle Fake News and Maintain Brand Integrity
Fake news. The term has become almost overused this past year, as stories from less than legitimate news sources ran rampant during the 2016 US presidential election.
How is fake news defined? “The word fake means not genuine—a forgery or a counterfeit. It implies an intent to deceive,” says a recent Slate article. It’s used to describe unsubstantiated stories or media sources.
Add to that Oxford Dictionaries word of the year, “post-truth,” an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’
All this has the heads of many in PR spinning. Because we work with reporters on a regular basis (some of us even went to Journalism school), it’s difficult to see these false stories taking precedence over those of respected news sources.
It also brings up an important question for those in the public relations profession. Fake news reduces the public’s trust in the media, in turn affecting what we do as PR pros. If the public doesn’t trust the media, then what good does it do to secure earned media placements for clients? No trust equals no value.
So, how do we in PR manage to do our jobs when faced with the prospect of fake news? What can we do to combat false stories?
First, we ought not to panic. Public relations practitioners have long battled the issue of rumours or outright lies circulating about the clients or the brands we represent. While fake news has taken on a life of its own in recent months, it shouldn’t change our fundamental approach to our work.
“Stories, whether true or false, can go viral. Once that happens, it’s hard to stop the momentum,” said Martin Waxman, President, Martin Waxman Communications and social media professor. “But we in PR are trained to handle issues and crises, and that’s the approach we should take when fake news threatens our organisation’s reputation.”
Here are some practical ways PR professionals can battle fake news in their day-to-day roles:
1. Build a community of loyal fans and followers: Fostering a community of fans can help your brand in many ways. One important benefit is that, if you consistently nurture it, it will be there for you if you need it.
“One way to prepare for the possibility of fake news about your company is to build a community before you need it,” says Waxman. “If you have loyal followers and fans, they’ll speak up on your behalf. If a brand tries to go on the defensive, it can sometimes have the opposite effect, but if a brand’s community defends it, it’s much more credible.”
2. Plan ahead for the worst: Planning is key to combatting fake news, as with any crisis. Add the scenario of false stories appearing about your brand or executives to your crisis preparedness plan. Be ready to wallop social media to fight back and influence public opinion in your favour, should someone attack your brand or CEO. Using a media monitoring platform can help by notifying you whenever your brand is mentioned so you can immediately respond if necessary.
3. Verify and fact check: Of course, PR pros understand the importance of verifying and fact checking their work. The approach to a press release (or any piece of content) should be the same—don’t make claims you can’t backup.
4. Work with reputable outlets and journalists: While there may be more disreputable media outlets than there used to be, there are still plenty of reliable ones out there. Be sure to work with reporters and publications who have a reputation for and value their status as trusted truth-tellers.
5. Encourage audiences to vet what they share—and to share from reputable sources only: Whenever possible, encourage your audience to look closely before sharing news stories. And don’t share fake news yourself. “Look at a piece of content critically,” says Waxman. “Analytically approach media sources to identify which stories you should share.”
If we do our best to ensure we’re not part of the fake news epidemic by adhering to high standards and preparing in advance for the worst, we can help stop fabricated stories from taking over—and help our profession keep its credibility.