Competition is fierce in many industries, and some companies are willing to take drastic measures, even unethical ones, to make sure they come out on top. One method is spreading false information about competitors, which can be done in a variety of ways such as paying individuals to post fake product reviews, creating fake offers, and making false statements on social media.
If you wait until one of these things happens to you, it may be too late to prevent the action from harming your company’s reputation and bottom line. That’s why you must be proactive in preventing the spread of misinformation about your business. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent it and to minimize the damage if it happens. Here we explore several of the most important guidelines to follow.
Nurture Your Reputation
It’s harder for the public to believe negative information about a company that has a solid reputation. That’s why proactive PR and marketing are essential. Here are a few steps to take to nurture your reputation online:
- Share your brand’s story. Create a communications plan that includes regularly releasing authentic promotional assets such as articles, blog posts, videos, infographics, social media posts, and other content. Don’t skimp on quality or information accuracy. Include information about and examples of your values, such as honesty and transparency.
- Encourage employees. Happy employees can be the best ambassadors for trustworthy companies. While you should never make it mandatory for team members to share their experiences online, you can encourage them to do so, and make it easy for them, such as by regularly sending them sharable corporate content.
- Embrace transparency. When something genuinely negative happens, communicate responsibility. For example, in the event of a data breach, issue a statement describing what happened, why it happened, what you are doing about it, what you are doing to prevent it from happening again, and how you will help customers whose data was stolen. If needed, issue regular updates on the situation.
Monitor Social Media
Use a social monitoring tool to identify mentions of your company name, brands, and employees. Be aware that people not associated with your business can create a fake account under your company’s name or something similar and create false or offensive posts that look like they came from you. So, you’ll want to keep an eye out for this issue as well. The following video describes additional benefits from social monitoring, also known as social listening:
If you find that others are creating fake accounts or false information related to your company, act quickly to correct the issue. For example, when someone created a false Starbucks Dreamer Day on which Starbucks was supposedly offering 40% off any item on the menu to undocumented Americans, Starbucks swiftly issued statements noting that Starbucks was not, in fact, sponsoring such an event.
Be Aware of Fake Reviews
In a recent article, the World Economic Forum estimated that 4% of all online reviews are fake. The article states, “Translating this into economic impact, the direct influence of fake online reviews on global online spending is $152 million.” The reason this practice is so widespread is that it can be very profitable, returning in sales many times the amount spent on creating fake reviews.
Companies should remain vigilant and remove fake reviews as quickly as possible. Government agencies are also working to combat this problem. A news release on the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) website states, “The Federal Trade Commission is blanketing industry with a clear message that, if they use endorsements to deceive consumers, the FTC will be ready to hold them responsible with every tool at its disposal.”
Watch for Negative Rumors
In recent years, company stock value has declined based on false rumors of executives’ deaths. That’s just one example of such rumors, which can be mistakes, such as a typo in a set of financial numbers. Or they can be malicious — intentionally created to harm a company. Unfortunately, the latter type is on the rise, and bad actors can take advantage of Disinformation as a Service (DaaS) offerings, which enable them to publish articles across media outlets, create real-looking social media accounts, and use those accounts to spread content.
Those who spread disinformation are motivated by financial gain, competition, disruption, issue advocacy, or more than one of these factors. The fact that information can spread so quickly makes social media monitoring, mentioned above, critical for catching these rumors in time to quell them.
Squash Fake Offers
In the Starbucks example above, the company acted quickly enough to suppress the fake offer that had begun circulating. But imagine if it hadn’t. In a recent blog post, marketing company Candidsky speculates, “Staff could have been overwhelmed by the number of individuals seeking to claim discounted drinks while law enforcement might have used the opportunity to shut down locations to detain illegal immigrants.”
Those consequences would have been disastrous. But even less dramatic outcomes, such as customers announcing that your business didn’t honor an offer, are worth avoiding.
Prepare in Advance
Create an action plan that spells out what to do in each of the above situations. The plan should include answers to the questions of who, what, where, when, and how:
- Who will act? Ideally, you will have several PR or communications professionals in charge of monitoring various channels and quickly responding.
- What will they do? The best response is often to calmly refute the false information and state the truth.
- Where will they do it? Typically, the response should take place in the channels where you have the strongest following. However, quantity is just as important as quality. Issue a news release and post it on your website, blog, social media channels, and other outlets you normally use.
- When will they do it? The correct information should be issued as soon as possible after you identify the false information.
- How will they do it? While you should distribute the correct information as quickly as possible, don’t do it at the expense of a hasty response that is incomplete, disjointed, or offensive.