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Public Relations in the Age of Fake News

Fake news is now a cultural phenomenon. We have seen everyone from politicians (don’t make me say his name) to comment section users invoke the term, to defend themselves, or to discredit opponents. One of the most damaging consequences ‘fake news’ spreading is that the public is losing confidence in the media. For most people, time constraints prevent separating the New York Times from Daily World Update.

 From a business or not-for-profit organization’s perspective, this presents a major PR issue: how do you protect your reputation against online misinformation. Initially, this can seem incredibly helpless. However, there are a few simple steps for regaining control over your publicity. These three tips can fortify your organization in the so-called ‘post-truth’ media world.

Know Your Brand Inside And Out

An easy way to tell a fake news story from actual media attention is when the story seriously conflicts with the organization’s brand. Your brand must be sacred in the public sphere. Its value comes from its consistency. People need to feel comfortable trusting their expectations when dealing with your organization. This trust will also protect you in the case of a fake news incident. When a story  contradicts your brand, readers are more likely to feel their bulls*** detector go off. Try reading the following headlines: 

  • LATEST IPHONE PRICE TO UNDERCUT SMARTPHONE MARKET
  • TESLA DEVELOPING LINE OF DIESEL-POWERED TRUCKS
  • SUBWAY RELEASES DEEP-FRIED BACON PIZZA SUB

Do you see the contradictions with each brand? Apple traditionally tops the smartphone market for price, as the luxury smartphone brand. Tesla is founded on a mandate of replacing fossil fuels in personal transportation, not exploiting them. Subway frames itself as the “healthy” option among major fast food chains. Each of these companies has an ultra-tight brand identity, which makes this exercise pretty easy. How can you emulate this to protect your organization against fake news? You need to:

  1. Understand your brand inside and out, especially your company’s core values
  2. Develop the proper visuals and messaging to reflect the brand/values
  3. Effectively communicate with your target audience and the public

This last step is vital, because, as we mentioned, the value of a strong brand lies in the public’s trust. Trusting consumers are less likely to boycott in the face of a potentially damaging fake news report. You should develop this trust through your communications policy.

 

Implement A Strong Communications Policy

Your communications policy acts as both a shield and immune system against fake news. Whether you are directly interacting with your social media audience, or broadcasting to the public, this is where you earn your reputation. If your message is visible and consistent in the media, the public is more likely to a) understand your brand identity, and b) respond positively if your name is dragged through the mud. Consistent communications will also give your response to fake news more credence. Ensuring that your internal communications are on the same page is also key, to prevent any unexpected leaks or public mishaps.

 

Be Honest With Your Audience

 In the digital age, media consumers have become far savvier, with their aforementioned bulls*** detectors at an all time high. What consumers now crave is honesty. They are tired of advertising speak, and there is little tolerance for hypocrisy.

If a mistake is ever made, be honest about it. The truth is much less toxic when handled early on in this process. If you are truly the victim of fake news, people may be uncertain of your organization’s guilt in the beginning. However, by repeating a strong, honest, consistent, branded message, your innocence will soon be revealed, while the fake news will unravel in lies.

If you’re anxious about the potential of fake news affecting your bottom line, a creative or marketing agency can go a long way with developing your brand identity and communications policy, as well as implementing them in your organization.

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