„It takes 20 years to build a good reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it“. Warren Buffet wrote this, which may no longer be true in this day and age. The rise of social media has also significantly exacerbated the problem of „fake news“, i.e. deliberately false reports or distorted representations of true information. As many as 74 per cent of managers believe that fake news is currently the greatest cyber risk.
Individuals and companies in particular face the challenge of protecting and maintaining their reputation. However, the current impact of the spread of fake news is just the beginning of a potential epidemic. Advances in AI are making it possible to realistically manipulate the actions or statements of individuals through deep fakes. In addition, the immense flood of information means that content is often regarded as credible without verification, making it impossible to form a clear and fact-based opinion. According to a study, more than half of EU citizens are often unsure whether certain information online is true. From false statements and photoshopped images to „deep fakes“, companies can be held responsible for actions they never committed.
But are there strategies for companies to deal effectively with fake news, or is this even an opportunity for PR and communications managers?
Quite clearly: yes. After all, social responsibility is more important than ever, and communications consultants and journalists share an interest in communicating honesty and trust in social discourse. For companies in particular, the trust and identification of stakeholders with the corporate culture is the basis for a good reputation. This is created through consistent, authentic behaviour and communication, as well as the fulfilment of promised expectations. To further strengthen this position and counteract fake news, there are a number of strategies to consider.
The first step is to continuously observe the news and discussions about the company, the CEO and the management, i.e. to carry out systematic monitoring. In this way, false news or statements can be identified as early as possible. Incorrect information and sources can often be found in inconspicuous places, such as an overlooked press release, which is why all company-related content must be carefully checked for misleading business information.
As soon as these are recognised, a rapid response is crucial in order to be able to proactively influence the further course of the critical situation. Before a clear statement can be made about the origin of the false report and an appropriate, solution-orientated statement can be made, an objective situation and risk assessment must first be carried out. Only then can a clear and unambiguous statement be drafted that anticipates all aspects of the story, addresses and refutes concerns. To be able to publish this in the shortest possible time, a crisis strategy must already be developed and a response plan in place. Why? Because information spreads online as soon as it is published and can go viral within a few hours. To prepare for crises, so-called „problem registers“ can also be created, in which suitable proactive and reactive communication tactics are developed for various scenarios of potential problems.
For example, in the event of misinformation being spread, managers can, in consultation with all departments, immediately be prepared to issue a counterstatement with reliable data and facts. This should then be communicated repeatedly across multiple channels in order to maximise its reach.
However, despite the focus on data, good storytelling is also important. It is important to utilise the emotional connection of the stakeholders. Depending on the problem and severity of the accusations, humour, for example, is a good strategy to lighten up the situation. With a little creativity, this can even be a way to stand out from other competitors and stay in the customer’s mind. It also makes sense to include actual and direct experiences from loyal customers, as the public trusts objective opinions more than a company’s employees.
Conclusion: Continuous and transparent communication, long before a potential crisis occurs, is the basis for good reputation management. If companies regularly publicise their measures, plans and goals, there is less chance that fake news will be immediately believed. Therefore, every company should emphasise a strong online presence with up-to-date information and announcements. In this way, company-related content is easily accessible to the public and stakeholders are prevented from researching elsewhere and coming across outdated or misleading information.