Keepin’ it real
It’s something we have all heard about.
And I am sure there’s been plenty of it floating around with relevance to the blasted B word. (Brexit, for those of you that don’t quite know how sick of it we are here at TMP Towers!)
It’s rife in celebrity circles too.
On a visit to a friend over the puddle, I discovered that there are whole publications seemingly devoted to it on USA magazine stands in supermarkets.
Fancy the shock, standing at the checkout, to discover that Megan Markle has been ostracised by the Royal Family and is expecting triplets, whilst the Queen is on her deathbed and film stars are being struck down by dreadful diseases.
It’s getting to the stage where we don’t know what to believe and it is making consumers rather skeptical.
Just look at the recent Jussie Smollett saga.
The Empire star claimed he was beaten, had bleach thrown on him and was tied in a noose in a racial and homophobic attack by two guys wearing maga (Make America Great Again) hats.
The world was incensed at this despicable behaviour.
But then Smollett refused to have any photos taken of his injuries by the police and, over the next few days, the whole thing started to unravel.
And next thing we knew, it comes out that the two Nigerian brothers supposedly responsible for the attack had actually been paid by Smollett to carry it out!
Rumour has it that it was all tied to Jussie being disgruntled with the pay packet he was receiving for his role on Empire.
But, whatever the reasoning behind the chaos, needless to say, all those that had been routing for Smollett were incensed when it all turned out to be pre-planned and pre-meditated by the ‘victim’ himself!
Businesses aren’t immune
Sure, fake news is definitely more prevalent in political and show biz circles.
But that doesn’t mean businesses can heave a ‘it will never happen to us’ sigh of relief.
Far from it.
This bullshit is something that is starting to affect more and more businesses.
It seems no one is immune, not even the big guns.
Starbucks in the USA fell victim to fake news when “Dreamer Day” overtook Twitter.
The posts, using the hashtag ‘#borderfreecoffee’ which spread across the social media channel like wildfire, claimed that the coffee chain would be giving out free frappuccinos to undocumented American migrants.
The adverts were plausible: they contained the Starbucks logo, signature font and photos of their drinks.
Turned out it was all a hoax.
The chain was quick to respond and set the record straight, but it still caused intense disappointment.
I wonder how many consumers changed allegiance to a rival chain because Starbucks hadn’t had the foresight to make this fake news a reality?!
Meanwhile, closer to home…
JD Wetherspoons had customers threatening to boycott the bargain pub chain’s almost 1,000 UK establishments, when news too to social media that they had banned staff from wearing Remembrance Day poppies.
The tweet came from twitter account WETHERSP00N_UK, which is noted as being a parody in its description.
But that didn’t stop a lot of their 25,500 followers taking the message at face value, even though it was not in the least bit true.
And as well as being frustrating, embarrassing or time consuming, fake news can also impact a brand’s bottom line.
What’s more, it can diminish consumer trust and create an atmosphere in which people don’t know what to believe. Plus, it can all happen a lot faster than you can even begin to imagine.
And it’s not just the big names that are susceptible.
Dozens of fake news sites keep cropping up on the internet causing damage to small businesses, not just well-known high street brands.
And in an age when we are all fighting to offer an emotive end user experience, retain customers and increase loyalty, it is pretty soul destroying.
Protecting your reputation
Social platforms have the power to destroy the reputation of a business in a heartbeat.
An Indian restaurant in London saw revenue fall by 50% after articles about them went viral on social media.
There are even sites now that allow Joe Public to make up fake stories, post images and send the news out into the world.
In a twelve-month period, 30 ‘fake news’ sites published over 3,000 articles that garnered more than 30,000 comments and interactions on Facebook alone.
Scary stuff indeed.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a magical elixir out there that can make your business immune to fake news.
So, it’s time to get more vigilant and creative!
Most small businesses don’t have dedicated PR teams that can respond quickly to false allegations.
But you still need to build your defences.
But how do you do this?
Prepare a rapid response:
That means you need to prepare a scenario plan as to how you would address fake news if you fell victim to it. Agree roles and responsibilities for initiating a company response. Put additional resources in place if necessary.
Monitor the landscape:
Make sure you know what’s being said about you and where. Knowing what’s out there in real time gives you the earliest opportunity to react and respond so you can protect your reputation before it’s too late.
Calibrate your response:
Yes, you need to respond to fake news quickly, but a knee jerk reaction may do even more damage. So, act in timely manner but make sure you assess how damaging the allegations are. Look at how influential the people talking about it are. And assess how widespread the news is before you respond. You don’t want to turn a small campfire into a raging inferno by addressing a relatively unnoticed blip.
Communicate your own narrative:
If a response to fake news is necessary, be proactive. Address inaccuracies head on and fill online, social and traditional media with the truth.
Keep stakeholders in the loop:
Make sure all the people that are important to your business hear the news directly from you. Arm them with the facts, preferably before they get wind of any false accusations. If staff members lose trust, you’ve no chance of keeping the general public on side.
So, as the boy scouts say, it’s time to ‘be prepared’.
Your brand’s end-user emotive experiences, consumer satisfaction, reputation and bottom line depend on it.