If you’ve ever opened an internet browser or breathed in a bit of Oxygen, you’re probably familiar with the concept of fake news. It’s the bane of our digital existence, perpetuating every myth from the earth being flat to (living) celebrities dying and babies born with three heads.

Fake news is most evident in fabricated stories and sensationalised, tabloid-esque headlines – but the real danger is when it creeps into media sources and online forums, before making its way to the family dinner table or office water cooler.

How did we let this happen?

There is nothing new about fake news. It’s not something that a new generation accidentally created between flossing and playing Pokemon Go. It’s deeply rooted in our humanity, as a more formal form of gossip and a tactic for sabotage. In 1831, the New York Son faked an entire story about life on the moon, which they attributed to a well-known astronomer, and people believed it.

Readers saw it published, they wanted to believe it or they were intrigued by it and bam! fake news became “real news” before anyone could say “wait a minute, that doesn’t entirely make sense”.

Anyone can create a bit of fake news and share it with wanton abandon, so of course – they make it their mission to do so. Why? it might just be for a laugh, maybe it’s for art or science! Sometimes the people creating the content actually believe it or they were misinformed themselves. However,  there are occasions where creating fake news has a slightly more sinister tone than being part of a harmless prank…

A prime example

This article about Kay Jewelers replacing real diamonds with fake ones lead to over 1000 Facebook engagements and a flood of responses perpetuating some paranoia around the brand.

kay jewelers social media monitoring fake diamonds

kay jewelers social media monitoring fake diamonds

Look at that. One article with a “play.dogswoofs” ad on the preview has escalated. Also, isn’t it ironic how the engagement on fake news is so high when that’s the metric that community managers usually struggle with the most? But let’s not digress. The point is that fake news can lead to real damage in a matter of hours. Another example, just to drive the point home:

See the source image

While some fake news stories seem obvious, there are many that skate under the radar or that seem believable. And the more believable they seem, the more harmful they can be to your brand. Yes, in an ideal world, everyone has good intentions but you need to safeguard your brand against the fake work of competitors, disgruntled employees, trolls and or the misinformed.

So how can you manage fake news as part of a crisis management plan?
  1. Keep a radar going on the social landscape to help anticipate and  identify a crisis. Make sure that you are religiously monitoring the social media landscape with reputation and media monitoring software or manually. You can also use hashtags to get an idea of what content is being posted around a topic. Mentions: Can help you specifically see what people are saying about your brand.

    Sentiment: can indicate a red flag and help start off an investigation into why sentiment is negative or positive. However, your understanding of the social landscape needs to go quite far beyond just looking at your own company/brand – even beyond the landscape of your industry. Having a thorough generational understanding of the world online can help you prevent faux pas, identify trends in fake news and start safeguarding your brand accordingly.

  2. Understand that a media crisis can happen to anyone – even a small company. Don’t think that you can get by without any idea of how you would manage risk or fake news about your brand because it might be small or not very controversial.

  3. Ensure you have a dedicated crisis manager or team to assist in emergencies. You can train in-house staff to take on this role or establish a relationship with a PR company for assistance. Your team should have the necessary skills to monitor the social landscape, create crisis communications and leverage relationships to mitigate and address risk.

  4. Create holding statements. These can be used to acknowledge a crisis and to buy you some time while you establish which strategy is best for a specific crisis. Create one specifically for what you deem fake news about your brand.

  5. Conduct a post-crisis analysis.Any challenge is an opportunity to learn and while you  might prescribe to a fail fast mindset, it’s still important to take lessons from any crisis. This can help you mitigate risk in future and get a better understanding of where you might have gone wrong. Look at which parts of your strategy were helpful or sufficient and where you can improve. Embrace the finer details during this exercise.

And, don’t be part of the problem

Don’t run the risk of creating your own kind of “fake news” in the form of clickbait. Yes, it feels good to have large numbers of viewers respond to a controversial or overly excitable headline but the quality of those interactions is low, without the substance needed to quantify them. For too long, we’ve collectively measured clicks and views in isolation, to varying extents. When you start looking at the nature of engagements beyond a figure, you will have greater insight into potential risks and who your consumers are. Shares, retweets, comments and reactions are more important than how many people might have opened something for a few minutes. Prioritise high-quality content with exciting headlines that don’t mislead readers. Be genuine and perpetuate a “real news” media to help consumers trust again.

The crux of the matter…

You can use the fundamentals of online reputation management to help protect your brand against fake news. Half the battle is staying in the loop and creating a basic plan to deal with an untrue story or media source that could cause damage. And while the possibility of a crisis stemming from fake news might seem unlikely, that’s not a risk you can take. Also – never assume that someone, somewhere won’t believe in that baby born with three heads.