Fake News: How to Protect Your Reputation in a Digital World

Fake News: How to Protect Your Reputation in a Digital World

Philippa Dods
5 March 2018

“If you lose money for the firm, I will be understanding. If you lose reputation, I will be ruthless.” – Warren Buffet

Have you fallen victim to fake news? Chances are you have, but you don’t know about it. The topic of protecting your reputation is a critical one, especially in today’s world where even the smallest wrongdoing is sprawled across headlines and retweeted far and wide. In addition to the public eye, company’s stakeholders are also keeping a close watch on their investments – and corporate reputation is at the top of the priority list. According to a recent KPMG survey, operational and reputational risk has become CEO’s biggest concerns, despite neither category featuring in the 2016 Top 10 list. This illustrates just how important reputation management has become – especially in recent times, 2017 being the height of fake news epidemic and 2018 seeing plans in place to prevent the spreading of this bad practice.

fake news protect brand reputation

For this reason, we partnered with Evan Pickworth, Media Director at Magna Carta Reputation Management Consultants, to help you give you the guidance to Protect Your Reputation in a Fake New World.

“The Power Of News Has Never Been Stronger”

A recent survey by Ketchum discovered that of those questioned, 86% said that effective communication is an extremely important part of effective leadership. The top-ranking attribute for effective leadership is “leading by example” with 78%, next is “communicating in an open and transparent way” at 76% and also very important at 75% is “aligning what you say with what you actually do”. Interestingly, attributes that have dropped in the rankings is the use of influential language and telling compelling stories about your brand – this year, people want to see action and implementation.

The reality of the world we’re living in is that the power of news has never been stronger – even when its wrong, or fake. Wrong news is the result of inaccuracies, a lack of proof-reading and fact-checking. But fake news is the complete fabrication and intentional misrepresentation of news stories to serve a social, political or financial agenda – that is, deliberate misinformation or propaganda created to deceive readers by disguising it as authentic news.

wrong fake news protect your brand reputation meltwater webinar

Because fake news is becoming so common, it’s the perfect recipe for potential reputation damage. Having a crisis plan in place is vital – a plan will assist with navigating stormy seas, whether the storm is real or fake. Here area few tips on managing a crisis in a world flooded with fake news:

Weeding Out The Fake News

1. The first step is ensuring you’re not overreacting or under-reacting.

Pulling the ostrich move and dunking your head in the sand, hoping the problem will go away, certainly isn’t going to help you at all during a crisis. But what if it’s not a crisis?

Evan Pickworth describes an issue as “the gap that is created when stakeholders’ expectations diverge from organisational realities over time.” These operational issues can be common within organisations and should still be managed correctly.

A crisis, on the other hand, is a bit more relentless. “A severe event that creates a firestorm of harshly negative perceptions that could damage the reputation, valuation or viability of an organisation,” – it can be seriously damaging if ignored or mismanaged.

2. The next step is to determine whether its authentic or fake news.

Fakes news websites are usually dead giveaways – there are grammatical and spelling errors in the headline and body of the article, the site is difficult to navigate or the stories are just incredibly outlandish. Pickworth points out the “Disclaimer” notice on the WMC Leaks (White Monopoly Capitalist) website, which is nonsensical and contradictory – a red flag that suggests it’s a bogus publication. To be certain a story isn’t fake news; check the author, consider the sources, read beyond the article to understand the full story and consider your own biases.

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But sometimes fake news isn’t as easy to recognize. During the US presidential elections last year, news stories of electorates Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton, some of which were fake – went viral. Today, many political analysts believe that the proliferation of fake news influenced the outcome of the election. Locally, the Daily Maverick reported finding fake accounts of Huffington Post SA, Radio 702 and the Sunday Times, as well as hundreds of individual’s accounts that were fake, which included manipulated photos, misquotes and sensationalist headlines.

The good news is that Twitter is finally clamping down on accounts, often automated bots, that are abusive and offensive. The changes are part of the company’s broader agenda to reduce hate speech, violence and harassment, and we’re hoping it’ll make an impact on the number of fake accounts trolling the web too.

News That Really Does Spread Like Wildfire

Containing a crisis in the digital age we’re in is a challenge. More than one-quarter of crises spread to international media within an hour and over two thirds within 24 hours, to an average of 11 countries. Despite 6 out of 10 cases providing days or months of notice, it still takes an average of 21 hours for companies to respond, leaving them open to “trial by Twitter.”

Most importantly, and most frightening, one year later, 53% of companies had not seen share prices regain pre-crisis levels.

“Understanding the data is such an important part of getting ahead of any situation” –

Evan Pickworth, Media Director at Magna Carta Reputation Management Consultants

When a crisis hits, and you’ve established it’s not just an issue but needs to be dealt with swiftly to avoid severe damage, it’s best to have a plan in place so that you can react without hesitation put out the flames before they spread. Here’s an example timeline of how to react to a crisis:

  • Within 5 minutes: Start Alert Process
  • 10 minutes: Define responsible person for communication tasks
  • 20 minutes: Inform employees, key stakeholders
  • < 60 minutes: Distribution of media release #1, respond to social media
  • 60 minutes: Set up media hotline, digital platforms
  • < 120 minutes: Distribution of media release #2
  • If it cannot be avoided, a statement to journalist on-site.

wildfire protect your brand reputation

How To Keep Your Wits About You – Crisis Do’s

  • Only provide information that is authorised for publication and broadcast.
  • If in doubt, check with your PR consultant or your organisation’s CEO.
  • Obtain any additional information only from a qualified person.
  • Avoid speculation on any aspect of the incident.
  • If asked, give your name. Be polite, be as helpful as possible and stay calm.
  • Log all questions together with the name of the journalist, the media represented, the time of the call and contact number, and ensure you give a time you will call back.
  • Listen to stakeholders.
  • Keep employees informed, including junior staff – communicate how they should act, what they should or shouldn’t be doing in this time of crisis.
  • Assume everything you say to journalists is fit for print or broadcast. Nothing is “off-the-record.”

It was a breath of fresh air when AdvTech responded swiftly and clearly to what could have been a major crisis. The massive educational company was shocked with accusations of fraud – the market hit them and their share price began to drop.

  • Before long, the AdvTech CEO, Roy Douglas, had gathered the correct information and spoken out about it. He said that a financial manager who had been with the group since 2014 had allegedly inflated revenue and understated costs through a number of transactions and embezzled the money.The discovery of fraud in any company is never welcomed. But the fact that Roy Douglas and AdvTech were able to act quickly, and provide the right details, figures and updates, allows for very little chance of speculation, fake news and brand reputation damage.

What Not To Do When Disaster Hits – Crisis Don’ts

  • Try to keep the media away.
  • Say “no comment.”
  • Admit liability or answer questions if you don’t have the correct information.
  • Lie or tell half-truths.
  • Give out any information on an “off-the-record” basis.
  • Give out any unauthorised information.
  • Speculate on causes – it could lead to legal implications.
  • Use technical jargon.
  • Shift the blame or lose your temper.
  • Take the phone off the hook or bury your head in the sand.

No company is immune to the risk of crisis – in fact, it’s impossible to be in business without it. All that is required, however, is to manage it efficiently. To find out more about how media intelligence can help you catch fires before they spread, contact us via the form today.