Fake news: preventing a brand crisis catastrophe

From fries that cure baldness to European kebab bans, there's a lot of fake news out there. The challenge for brands is making sure they're not caught up in the fray, writes Meltwater's David Hickey.

Fake news is everywhere. Its impact on the victory of Donald Trump and the pro-Brexit campaign are two of the most well-known examples but its focus no longer lies solely on politicians and celebrities.

The rise of social media has breathed new life into the cycle of false stories, with Gartner’s Top Strategic Technology Trends for 2018 predicting that “by 2022, most people in mature economies will consume more false information than true information.” With businesses now in the firing line, the risks are far greater than just reputational downfall.

Over the past year, we’ve witnessed a range of ridiculous false stories make headlines. From a newly discovered ingredient in McDonald’s french fries which allegedly cured baldness to the European kebab ban which dominated mainstream media headlines. The incident went so far that it forced the European Commission and Parliament to prematurely release details of an ongoing investigation into the inclusion of phosphate additives in kebab meat. These stories showcase how quickly false claims, especially those based on some level of truth, can spread into the mainstream news cycle and ultimately damage brand reputation.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

With Australians increasingly turning to social media as their primary news source, how businesses monitor and respond to both social and traditional media will determine whether they’ll be able to overcome a fake news crisis.

Catch it before it spreads

Limiting the impact of fake news means spotting it before it has a chance to gain significant traction. Failure to do this can result in both short and long-term consequences. From a few negative stories that deter potential customers, to significant revenue loss, which, depending on the severity and how it’s handled, could send a company bankrupt.

Real-time monitoring is key to picking up signals of a crisis before it takes hold. News alerts and social listening will allow you to quickly identify any false comments or stories as soon as they appear. This should include anomaly detection around an unusual rise in conversations online as well as tracking influential individuals who may have previously mentioned your brand or product to ensure you don’t become desensitised and miss a red flag.

These processes will allow you to determine the severity of an article or post by offering insights to the source and its reach, helping you determine next steps to mitigate any risks.

Don’t jump from the frying pan into the fire

It’s important to act fast but always proceed with caution. Ensure you have all the facts to dispel any stories and take control of the narrative. Any statements you push out may only work to add fuel to the fire, allowing social conversations to break into mainstream media. Pick your battles carefully and ensure you have the full picture before addressing any fallacies.

Don’t leave it to chance

Fake news is no longer a new phenomenon but most businesses wait to act, making its spread often irreversible.

While social media platforms are acting to mitigate the issue — just this month, Facebook rolled out its context button to help users check the veracity of stories — businesses need to do their due diligence and ensure they are on the front foot when identifying and reacting to fake news. If not, businesses run the risk of succumbing to the consequences of false stories.

David Hickey is director for strategy ANZ, Meltwater.


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