Media thrives on grabbing the attention of the public.
With the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, media outlets and particularly social media platforms, have outdone themselves to be the first in breaking the news.
At the same time, with a 24/7 news cycle comes the mix of outrageous claims and stories masquerading as news and which tend to spread fast because this content is more titillating to the eye. The agenda here is to deceive the public rather than enlighten them. This trend now ranks as the number one nuisance in the internet age.
As Public Relations professionals, we have to be at the front lines to help protect individuals, brands and businesses against misinformation and combating the spread of false news about our clients.
We should fight against negativity, de-motivation and propaganda. Effectively addressing these attacks is critical towards managing what could otherwise be a very damaging situation. Those who have experienced it know exactly how difficult it can be to rectify false news especially when it goes viral.
Our top weapons in this fight have always been; keeping up-to-date with what is trending, timely responses and creating relationships with media outlets.
When a PR team is faced with a public misstatement, much depends on the severity of the mistake. But regardless of the circumstances steps must be taken to contain it, in other words, damage control. False information can cause irreparable harm to a brand or company’s image if left unchecked.
Combating the spread of false news and guarding a brand requires the following;
- Make sure you have all your google alerts set up so that you always get notifications of news quickly. This provides you with an opportunity to reach out to the news source right away and request the information to be corrected or for you to give the news source the right information.
- Create and publish as much content as possible around the company, brand or individual getting attacked by false news. This way you can easily suppress the spread of fake news. Remember to be clear, transparent and truthful, if mistakes are made, admit and rectify them.
- Think through your response first before you react, focus on how you should respond and which platform to use. Take some to choose the most appropriate platform. For instance, instead of engaging the source of fake news, consider using the brand’s communication platforms that have established a strong following to correct the fake news.
- Know where your consumers get their news. Once you have identified these sources, constantly follow, monitor and create a relationship with the source. Great PR professionals know people at these outlets and even get informed before stories are released.
- Get your brands on social media channels. If they own none, create pages for them. Online tools and social media human interaction provides ground for you to quickly rectify false news. Create proactive and engaging content that can easily defend a brand. Social media monitoring provides information on brand mentions, tracking relevant hashtags and discovering trending topics related to your brand.
- Craft responses to competitors ahead of time, as you craft crisis communications plans, put yourself in your competitors plans, they must put themselves in their competitors shoe, figure out the most outrageous claims they might make and craft their response strategies ahead of time.
- Most importantly, release a statement disproving the false news at the earliest convenience. Defend your brand with facts and question the legitimacy of all deceiving claims. Besides being factually accurate, ensure your response respects confidentiality and does not contain offensive content.
When all is said and done however, malicious content is most often set off when a customer feels aggrieved about something. Brands that merely give lip-service to customer services are the ones that are most frequently lambasted.