No one likes to be the butt of an April Fool’s joke. But there’s especially nothing funny about finding out there are false truths and misinformation being spread about your company. Unfortunately, it happens more than you think and brands can be the last to know if there are false truths being spread about them.
So what steps can you take now to stop misinformation in its path? The short, simple answer is: Keep your ear to the ground to identify a crisis before it happens.
Media monitoring will inform you on what is being said about your brand in news outlets. Social listening will provide real-time insights into the conversations around your brand on social media and various online forums. You can also set up real-time alerts to know immediately if there’s an issue you need to address. All of these tactics can help you stay ahead of any emerging issues before they become a full-on catastrophe.
Know What to Look For
It's important to first make sure you have the right parameters in place to ensure you don’t miss a story that comes through. If your brand receives thousands of online mentions a day, you need to be able to quickly identify anything that could potentially turn into a crisis. Here are a few ways to go about it:
Track sentiment: Sentiment analysis can help you quickly identify negative mentions of your brand. It’s not a perfect science, but it’s a good starting point to understand how your brand is being talked about online and in news outlets.
Consider the source: Looking at the source(s) of your brand mentions is also key to combat the potential spread of misinformation. Think about their level of influence and consider the 80/20 rule here: The most influential 20% will generate 80% of a story’s virality. If you can identify the top-ranking sources who have taken control of the message, you are better poised to nip a burgeoning crisis in the bud. You should also be looking for potential allies who would be willing to go to bat for your brand and help you reframe the narrative and correct any misconceptions.
Decide if it’s misinformation or misconceptions: It’s not uncommon for brands to see or hear people spreading misconceptions around their products or services. While relatively harmless in most cases, it is still worth staying ahead of so you can create messages that challenge those misconceptions.
Set up real-time alerts: Chances are you’re already using Google Alerts to keep an eye on mentions of your brand, but setting up real-time alerts with a third-party media monitoring vendor can better prepare you to address any arising issues. That’s because you’ll have the option to customize the alerts and ensure any potential issues go to the right stakeholder instantly, enabling your team to act quickly.
While media monitoring and social listening won’t necessarily tell you if news is “fake” they can give you the immediate insight you need to act quickly. The faster you’re aware of a story that’s circulating about your brand, the faster you can do the proper investigating and decide the most appropriate response or action to take.
What if you’re the source of fake news?
It happens to the best of brands. An errant Tweet goes out that wasn’t properly vetted or a marketing message hits the wrong note, and suddenly your brand is the recipient of backlash. It can feel like the end of the world (or your business), but it doesn’t have to be. First, you should always have a crisis communication plan in place for such occurrences. Barring that, here are some immediate next steps to take:
- Own up to it. If you made a mistake, be willing to take ownership of it and let your audience know what you will do to both correct the mistake and ensure it doesn’t happen again.
- Act quickly but rationally. While you want to act as quickly as possible to diffuse the situation, you also want to avoid a knee-jerk reaction that you may regret later. Take time to think about how you want to respond and circulate it with other stakeholders in the company to get more perspectives.
- Follow through on your actions to make it right. If you don’t think audiences are paying attention, think again. If you promise to make changes moving forward, be sure to follow through on them. Audiences are willing to give a brand that makes a mistake another chance; however, if your promises to right your wrongs prove empty, your audience won’t be as forgiving the second time around.
Bottom line: Regardless of whether news that’s circulating around your brand is fake or not, media monitoring and social listening should be an “always on” PR function.