April 25, 2017

Fake News: Why Crisis Communications Planning is Important

If you think fake news could not possibly impact your company, we have one word: Pizzagate. When a North Carolina man walked into a little-known Washington, D.C. restaurant with an assault rifle earlier this year, the widespread impact and dangerous implications of this growing trend proved that no brand – no matter how powerful or obscure – is safe.

With more than half of Americans reporting social media as their main source of current events, “fake news” is on the rise. The epidemic became most apparent during the recent presidential election, as Democrats and Republicans both cried foul play on the “fake news” front as fiction traveled faster than facts – amplifying over social media platforms and landing, in some cases, in mainstream media sources.

Now Americans overall are saying that this trend has left them “deeply confused” about current events, a sentiment shared across political lines, education level and income, according to a recent Pew Center Research study.

What does this mean for public relations professionals? Perhaps most importantly, the growing skepticism of the media as a trusted news source means that traditional PR efforts are potentially less useful than they once were. As more and more people seek their news from social media or niche news sources, it becomes harder for public relations professionals to reach the audiences their clients care about most.

The result? Growing confusion in the marketplace. A public ill-equipped to decifer the true from the false may unknowingly share fake news stories, wreaking havoc on companies and organizations that fall victim. In a matter of hours, a fake news story about a particular company or industry can cause confusion among employees, customers or shareholders. Reputations are at stake.

As PR professionals, we must be prepared to address fake news – whether it impacts your company directly or indirectly. How do you survive a direct or indirect attack? And, how do you prepare and protect your company or clients in advance?

Here are some tips from Denterlein Vice President Jill Reilly:

  • Be ready with the facts
  • Have a strong, consistent and trustworthy social media presence, which allows you the opportunity to directly address confusion
  • Line up all company approvals ahead of time – make sure the legal team is on board early
  • Convene your crisis team
  • Identify your spokesperson(s) and limit freelancing
  • Line up third parties to help you corroborate the facts
  • Prepare to quickly and sincerely take responsibility for a mistake and correct it
  • Identify your audiences and how you will make your case to them
  • Monitor the media – particularly social media – and  correct misinformation swiftly