November will mark five years since the country was rocked by a story that a female student had been gang raped at a fraternity party at the University of Virginia. Law enforcement and other media outlets followed up on the story but were unable to validate most of the information and also discovered a number of incongruities. By the time the smoke cleared, the Poynter Institute called this journalism’s “Error of the Year.”
It’s Only Fake News
The speed at which news and even rumors can fly today is so rapid that PR folks need to be ready 24 x 7 for almost anything. Even fake news can destroy a company or its product, if not forever, for a long time until the dust clears.
What To Do?
Of course, it’s unrealistic and impossible to anticipate and know what kind of rumor or fake news may be thrown your way but some things should already be in place in such an eventuality. First, you must have am internal contact list of who must be contacted immediately if a crisis arises. This is the team that will assemble at once and craft a response.
Second, you must also have an external list that will be contacted with your response. This shouldn’t include just the media but also vendors, customers, shareholders and any other key publics, especially your employees.
How To Respond
Communication, confidence, positiveness and evaluation are key. It’s not the time to be quiet and think this will blow away overnight. Doing the latter will only serve to let people think there’s some truth to the fake news.
Figure out what makes the rumor believable and defuse it. Acknowledge fears as well as the rumor and dispense facts on why the news is fake. Even if some of your target audience hasn’t yet seen or heard the fake news, they soon will. Pre-empt this. And once your team has crafted a plan and response, utilize every platform you have to get your word out.
Regardless of your personal feelings about the source of the fake news, make contact, share your information and document your encounter. This usually eliminates the possibility of the source saying you never bothered to respond.
As critical as it was to respond clearly and quickly, it’s just as important to monitor and measure the effect of any fake news on your product and/or company. Ask yourself and your team, “What were the lessons learned and how might things have been improved?”
If possible, it’s equally valuable to have a meeting of all employees to hear and gather their feedback. You can oftentimes pick up information they gathered from neighbors, friends and others that you might not otherwise capture.
Finally, be sure to thank the same publics you contacted earlier for their understanding and loyalty. Remind them that they can feel free to contact your department for more information, suggestions and comments at any time.
In the words of noted American innovator, author, and businessman, Sean Covey, “Isn’t it kind of silly to think that tearing someone else down build you up?