Fake or Real? Tips on How Marketers Can Prepare for Fake News
From the Pizzagate conspiracy theory about an alleged (but completely non-existent) pedophile ring operating out of a Clinton-linked pizzeria that consumed a news cycle during the 2016 Presidential election to that time when the cast of TV’s “Friends” was said to be reuniting for a new season or even when Pope Francis supposedly endorsed Donald Trump, fake news is now a topic of conversation on social media, in newsrooms and around your office water cooler. With so much content swirling around the internet, it’s increasingly hard to identify what’s real and what’s not (I’ll be honest, I’ve clicked on my fair share of fake news posts, especially during the last Presidential election).
Marketers and business communicators now, more than ever, must arm themselves with tools to minimize damage in the event their companies fall victim to fake news. Below are tips from Star Tribune columnist John Rash, the Padilla agency’s senior director Tracy Carlson, and i.e. network founder and former KARE-TV anchor Rick Kupchella.
I saw these Minnesota crisis experts speak on a panel at the March 2017 IABC Convergence Summit (see also my blog recap of a social media panel featuring the Mall of America and Super Bowl). Their topics: what is fake news, how to spot it and how your company can respond. Read on for tips to prepare your PR and marketing campaigns for the new reality of fake news.
What Is Fake News?
Fake news is more than just a reporter getting the facts wrong. It’s a knowing falsehood; a reckless disregard for the truth; a deliberate deception – or in layman’s terms, creating a news story that is purposely false. Although fake news is a global phenomenon, John Rash (who has also penned, "Alternative facts' and the power of words") said the Western world is particularly susceptible because of our openness and freedom of information. In fact, according to a 2016 poll from the Pew Research Center, nearly one in four Americans have shared fake news! Rash added that the real challenge of fake news is that once it’s out in the media, the story amplifies as readers share it across platforms and the story can’t be taken back.
Fake news doesn’t just affect individuals, it can also affect companies. Rick Kupchella shared a recent example that had lasting effects on one of America’s largest consumer brands. This past November, PepsiCo was hit with an onslaught of fake news reports claiming that the company’s CEO, Indra Nooyi, told Americans who voted for Trump to “take their business elsewhere.” Reports of these false comments spread wildly on social media spurring Trump backers to boycott PepsiCo. As a result, Pepsi’s stock fell 3.75 percent the day the story appeared and took more than a month to rebound; this fake news attack was the most impactful event for Pepsi in all of 2016.
While there’s a slim chance your company will fall victim to fake news in the way Pepsi did, Padilla’s Tracy Carlson said all businesses can maintain their credibility by combating false reports with accurate information, and doing the following:
- Use Visuals – Help spread truth by using photos and videos to tell your company’s true story. Visuals augment the written word to help show emotion.
- Connect – Always tie back your company’s messages to employees, customers and stakeholders, to let them know they are top of mind.
- Equip – Make sure your internal audience is the first to receive your corrective statement, followed by external audiences such as the media. Provide employees with the tools to be brand messengers, such as draft posts to share on their social media channels.
- Leverage – Use a variety of channels (e.g. social media, website/blog, earned and paid media) to spread your accurate messages.
- Monitor – Keep a close eye on the impact of the fake news and make adjustments as necessary. For example, at Maccabee we use a number of monitoring services such as Nuvi and Cision that can flag keywords and company mentions across platforms to stay up to date on what’s being said – real and fake - about our clients.
How To Spot Fake News
But even before communicators can respond to fake news, we need to be able to spot it, which can be a challenge in and of itself. According to the Pew Research Center poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events. And those news stories are everywhere. Recently, Google released a report that stated 25 percent of its daily traffic returns offensive or “clearly misleading content, which is not what people are looking for.”
Fortunately, some social media and online platforms are helping users identify fake news. Take, for example, Facebook, which recently offered its nearly 2 billion users tips on how to spot false news, including:
Be skeptical of headlines. False news stories often have catchy headlines in all caps with exclamation points. If shocking claims in the headline sound unbelievable, they probably are.
Look closely at the URL. A phony or look-alike URL may be a warning sign of false news. Many false news sites mimic authentic news sources by making small changes to the URL. You can go to the site to compare the URL to established sources.
Investigate the source. Ensure that the story is written by a source that you trust with a reputation for accuracy. If the story comes from an unfamiliar organization, check their "About" section to learn more.
To sum up: your company and your customers are inundated with a stream of constant content. And with little time for full digestion, fake news stories can fool the best of us – impacting your brand reputation, sales and even your stock price. Fake or real? You decide.
For more information on how to spot fake news sites, check out this guide to fake news websites, including popular fake sites to avoid such as Empire News, National Report and Weekly World News.
Kara Turtinen is a senior account executive at Minneapolis-based Maccabee, a strategic public relations and online marketing agency.