Whitney Danhauer

Spin Sucks Question: How Do You Counter Fake News?

By: Whitney Danhauer | April 26, 2019 | 
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fake newsOn last week’s #SpinSucksQuestion, we teamed up with Susan Moeller to talk about the different tools people use to receive alerts about their brand or organization.

One of the key factors involved was making sure the information is reliable.

But what happens if your company is on the receiving end of disinformation or fake news? 

Of course, everyone should have a crisis communication plan in place, but what should you build in to manage a crisis caused by fake news?

That’s exactly the question I posed to the Spin Sucks community this week:

If your organization or client was hit by fake news, or a deepfake video, what would you do to repair its reputation?

It’s an important topic, and I received some great answers.

Be Ready to React 

Everyone had similar thoughts about making sure you address the false information immediately.

Chris Williams, from Planet Magpie, said this:

Our clients don’t get the big fake news strikes. But they do get phony online reviews, which in many ways hurt worse. They stick on like a leech, continually draining away attention and business.

I always tell them to do three things, in this order.

First, review the legitimacy (e.g. is it coming from a real customer?). Then, reach out to them directly and see if you can fix the problem. Since they can change the copy and you cannot, making them happy can wipe away the review.

Second, if the review is NOT legitimate, report it to the channel’s support staff (e.g. Yelp, Google, Facebook, etc.). You can’t take down reviews, but they can.

Third, if the review is legitimate and the customer won’t take it down, respond to the review with an apology and explanation. Be genuine in your apology. Nothing rubs salt in like a fake apology everyone can see. Explain the circumstances after that, in brief. This way you identify that you’re human too, and you’re committed to doing better.

Dave Clark, from Authentic Matters, disagrees about the use of the term “fake news,” but believes there are certain things an organization must do when faced with lies:

The term “fake news” is a diffusing device that allows whoever’s on the receiving end of critical coverage to dismiss it. 

But then there are lies. When a company’s on the receiving end of published lies, they should vet the legitimacy of the outlet. If they’re bush league, ignore it. If it’s a legit outlet, reach out and start a dialog. Prep how you’re going to address this with your customers. Plan how you’re going to address it with prospective customers. (I’d even suggest calling it out in a blog post, Bezos-style: “So and so published x about us. That is not true. Here are the facts…”)

Obviously plenty more to do, but those are a few first steps.

Separate the Stakeholders

Dave Johnson suggests dealing with those who are spreading false information, and those who are reacting to it:

First, if you have a crisis communication plan, now is the time to put it into action.

If you don’t have one, your first action, regardless, is to respond directly to the source of the fake content that got the fun started. You want to do this sooner rather than later. Also, you’re already at a disadvantage because the fake news is the first (and only) narrative  out there. You’ll want your response to clear up any misinformation.

Next, deal with those that are reacting. The haters are everywhere. FYI, you can’t clear up the mess with everyone. However, there are the ones that continue to spread the fake news. You need to engage them and set the record straight.

Keep an eye out for influencers and consumers, you’ll need to engage them. Beware, it’s exhausting and time consuming, but what else do you have to do, right?

Tip: Make sure you’re employing some type of social listening tool to help you with the spread of the bogus content, and who is sharing it.

Regarding your customers, partners and stakeholders, let them know soonest that the post is bogus. You want to leverage your network of influencers, advocates, employees, and more. Arm these folks with the full story, the facts, what you’re doing, and how they can assist. Give them your key messages, talking points and Q&A. The goal here is to build an Army of Advocates and Cheerleaders fast! Brand advocates are super important because they are passionate about your business and they want to share it.

Step Back and Assess the Landscape

Finally, Ozan Toptas offers some great advice about analyzing the narrative as a whole:

I’d first analyze the narrative of the fake information to see what factors (PESTEL—political, economic, social, technological, environmental, and legal) are feeding said narrative. Then try to see why the narrative is echoing, why it is picked up, what is its main contagion factor.

Then I would create a new (counter-)narrative addressing or basing my response on the same factors, while playing to a same-ish contagion. With this counter-narrative, I would build a message house, an overarching counter-narrative built upon 3 x (sizzle + facts and figures + anecdotes), and deploy the hell out of it in different content types.

How Do You Handle Fake News

Getting hit by bad reviews, or fake news, is overwhelming and it’s reasonable to panic a little.

Keep in mind, though, it’s a problem that can be solved.

Some people spread lies out of jealousy or anger, while others do it simply because they can.

No matter the reason, this doesn’t have to destroy you or the organization and you can get over this hump.

Has your organization ever had to deal with fake news? If so, what was their plan?

Add your answer to this week’s Spin Sucks Question in the comments!

About Whitney Danhauer


Whitney is living in Central Kentucky with her husband, Michael and her daughter, Evie Rose. She's an avid reader, an even more avid movie watcher, and loves nothing more than a well-placed pop culture reference. By day she writes about all things communications for Spin Sucks, by night she writes about whatever she wants. Her first novel, Good Riddance, was released in October of 2015.