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5 Ways Brands can combat fake news in 2020.

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

Every year, fake news becomes more believable and authentic thanks to advancing technology, and in 2020, brands have never been in greater danger of reputational damage.

Every year, brands are faced with the threat of reputational damage stemming from falsehood crafted and disseminated to harm their image, equity, share price, sales and so on. And thanks to rapid advancement in technology, these campaigns are spreading faster, reaching farther corners of the earth and becoming increasingly more authentic and believable.

If executives are not yet aware of the dangers of fake news, they might be frightened to learn that online fake news now costs the global economy around $78 billion annually — with about $39 billion of stock market value lost in a year thanks to the spread of false and malicious information.

Companies like Dufil Prima Foods, makers of Indomie, can testify to a period when “Killer Indomie” was once alleged to be on shelves across the country — costing them millions in potential sales and frightening away even the most loyal customers.

So how can brands fight fake news and curtail its far-reaching consequences on sales and bottom line?

1. Monitor and Track Every Online Mention.

Even the most viral online fake news campaigns start with a single post and a single share. This means brands and their PR teams must be 100% ears-to-the-ground, scouring the internet for all mentions of their brand name, products and senior executives across the web, podcasts, blogs, social media and so on. It is important that they nail it as soon as it emerges.

It is inexcusable for brands and their communication teams to learn about damaging videos and social media posts from third parties or customers.

2. Provide a reputable reference for fact-checking

Issuing a swift disclaimer across all owned media channels — website, blogs, social media accounts — and sharing to media houses and social media amplifiers will provide a reference and source of information customers can easily find for verification.

When customers seek out more information about a particular allegation — perhaps from a simple google or social media search — it is critical that results are controlled and reputable to dispell all fears and worries.

These swift initial communications are necessary to highlight the stories as false, distances the company and the brand from the allegations and provide customers with a trusted reference for fact-checking.

Once the originating source is pinpointed, brands can have their legal teams issue a cease or retraction to have them take down the posts and issue an apology.

3. Report every post.

The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal and subsequent inquest by the United State Congress, has seen social media companies take more responsibility for their platform’s role in the propagation and dissemination of false news.

These companies — by compulsion or social responsibility — have become more eager to lend a hand to combat what is fast becoming one of the world’s top global risks, according to The Economist.

They are quick to take down any posts and restrict the user account reported for violating their policies. So communication teams need to identify these posts across all spheres of the internet and report them as soon as they pop up.

4. Unleash your greatest resource: Your employees

Big brands are often notorious for demanding that their employees be silent when controversies surface on the internet. They do this to prevent their people-- regardless of how noble their intentions and eagerness to defend their bread and butter-- from setting off more fires by simply saying the wrong things.

So the thinking is clear: let the PR professionals handle the damage control. And while this makes sense, there is a strong case for employees to be incorporated into PR-crisis communication-strategies for a number of reasons. Firstly, they are a first-class representation of the brand and an authentic source with inside information whose uncoached words are perceived as more sincere and honest. It is no secret that customers are increasingly demanding authenticity--not some scripted playbook that has been seen countless times-- so rather than keep employees away from engaging, PR teams should provide them with guidelines with which to engage in respectful discourse online.

Secondly, there can only be reward for more brand avocates telling a positive story of the brand during a time of controversy, entering into respectful discussions to educate the public on what is true and what isn't. So, let them talk to friends and followers on social media and blogs and forums and help put out the fires. Not only will this be effective in combating fake news, but it will also help boost public perception of the company and its culture-- and as such, help attract top-class talent.

5. Don't attempt to ride the controversy. Or ignore it.

It may be tempting to just idle by and hope that whatever malicious content has been posted about your brand goes away on its own. Or worse-- ride the wave in a bid to drum up sales. It is worth considering to note that fake news is 4x more shared on social media according to research conducted by Oxford University than content from reliable outlets. And the effects on brand equity and future sales can far out-weight whatever revenue is generated as a result of the negative publicity.

The costs of combatting fake news can be astronomic as demonstrated by brands spending over $9 billion on reputation management annually. So it is imperative to attack it and nip it in the bud before it takes flight.

However, Brands and their PR teams will need to hone their crisis communication skills and keep up with the latest technology if they are to stand a chance against the rising challenges and innovation of fake news and deep fakes in 2020.

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