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Just because someone says something doesn’t make it true. Unfortunately, thanks to fake news and misleading social media posts, most brands now deal with unfair press at some point.
Social app Mappen got hit worse than most. To encourage young people to reduce their screen time, Mappen was established to help them communicate with and find friends in the real world. With so many teens suffering from the emotional drawbacks of excessive social media use, Mappen should have received a warm welcome.
Instead, adults assumed it posed a danger to their children’s safety. Mappen users control when and with whom they share their location, but few press outlets pointed that out. Once the story gained traction, Mappen had to work for months to regain the trust of its target audience.
Headaches like that can befall any brand. Someone gets the wrong impression and makes some noise; suddenly, the masses turn hostile. In rare cases, competitors might even promote fake stories, like when meetup app Down To Lunch fought off anonymous (and completely false) rumors of human trafficking.
Regardless of where unfair press originates, brands need to know how to respond. The following best practices can help brands fight back against the rumor mill:
1. Be clear, but don’t engage trolls.
The first thing people do when someone accuses a brand of misdeeds is to go directly to the brand’s social media pages. That sudden influx of negative attention can be alarming, but brands can’t afford to make the problem worse by responding poorly.
Immediately and unequivocally deny any rumor that lacks merit. If someone asks about the issue on a public forum, provide a short statement in a comment or reply. Try, “This story is absolutely false. We are looking into the origin of the rumor and will keep our fans posted.” Now is not the time for subtlety.
What if that person comments again? Respond to reasonable questions, but don’t get dragged into a debate. Author and marketing consultant Jay Baer calls this the “Rule of Reply Only Twice.” Your brand can only get burned by continuing the conversation.
2. Invest in content.
You can’t delete someone else’s articles online, but you can invest in content marketing to bury negative press over time. With a consistent strategy, rumors will eventually drop off the first page of Google search results, never to be seen again.
Treat false rumors as if they were a competing brand. How would you get your pages ahead of a rival’s pages for the same keywords? Neil Patel’s guide to ethical SEO warfare is just as useful in battling rumors as it is in jockeying for position with competitors.
Rather than limit your content strategy to on-page pieces, connect to friendly news outlets and other external publications to shape the narrative. Be careful not to jump into a lion’s den — for example, a brand accused of mistreating animals should avoid interviews with animal-focused companies like PETA, which might use the opportunity to further its narrative.
3. Provide context.
Sometimes, one brand ends up taking the heat for another company’s mistake. When Dell’s laptop batteries began to combustin the mid-2000s, the public understandably cried foul. Dell pulled the products, but in doing so, pointed out that the batteries were manufactured by Sony. Within weeks, other companies pulled their Sony-powered laptops as well. The blame shifted to Sony, and Dell enjoyed positive attention for becoming the first company to act on the problem.
If your firm comes under fire for something others do as well, take the high road. Make the matter right with customers and acknowledge any missteps you made, but tell your side of the story. Going above and beyond to address an issue your company isn’t entirely responsible for tends to pay off in terms of press and public goodwill.
Squash Negative Press at the Source
Honesty, content, and context allow brands to keep negative press from gaining too much traction, but the best way to stop rumors from spreading is to squash them before they start. I was able to kill a story with facts when a government employee unfairly told a reporter that our product was dangerous. I was able to show that this employee was on a crusade and show the reporter all of the testing we had done to ensure the product was safe.
To that end, brands should continually monitor their names on social media and in the news. Accusations can gain traction in the span of hours. Responding early is the best way to control the narrative.
The digital age demands immediacy, and companies must always be ready to defend their good names. Stay vigilant, stay honest, and treat even the smallest accusations with the seriousness they deserve. It not only protects you, but also your audience, from becoming a victim of fake news.
May 30, 2019 at 01:59PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs