By Ben Walters, Account Manager, Corporate team
Anyone on Twitter, Whatsapp or Facebook in the last few weeks will have been inundated by panicked messages from those apparently ‘in the know’. There was the story of four young boys in intensive care in Cork because of taking anti-inflammatory medication whilst infected with Coronavirus. There were also the images of military personnel on the streets in London, supposedly being called in to enforce martial law. Both these stories were false, and plenty of others like it turn out to be, at best, misleading.
Misinformation spreads quickly anyway – we have witnessed it happen recently in important democratic exercises like the US elections and Brexit. But in times like this, when people have an all-encompassing worry and time on their hands to chat about it, it gets even worse.
However, misinformation is not just something that impacts social groups and social phenomena like COVID-19, it also affects businesses, both in times of crisis and during business as usual. And it can prove very damaging, both for the company’s reputation and for their bottom line.
So, what can businesses do to protect themselves against misinformation?
- Engage with key journalists – it is really important that you open up regular channels of communication with key journalists, regardless of whether they are covering the story or not. Don’t forget that it is a journalist’s job to research and verify pieces of information before sharing it with the public. Put your facts together and share it with key journalists in a transparent way. By maintaining relationships with journalists and giving yourself the opportunity to present your side of the story you are increasing your chances of balanced coverage if it does come.
- Communicate appropriately and often – when there is a vacuum of communication, people resort to finding information from alternative sources to satisfy their need to be updated. The solution to this is to provide people with the right information, from the horse’s mouth. Where possible, try to communicate with your stakeholders as often as is appropriate (don’t bombard them!), even if it is just to reassure them you are looking into a certain situation. If you don’t, others will. And they won’t always be right.
- Use your social channels wisely – people have an innate trust in social networks, because they feel like they broadly know people on there, and naturally trust those they are familiar with. But social networks are fertile ground for misinformation. Use your social media channels to rebut and correct misinformation where possible and have a plan for when this escalates. It is important to know when to engage and when not to. Avoid entering into a public mud-slinging match with other users. If needs be, take social conversations offline to reassure people and continue the discussion.
- Make employees your advocates – FleishmanHillard’s Authenticity Gap research that showed that, when it came to a list of most trusted sources of information, ‘people I know’ came top, well ahead of journalists, politicians and businesses. Can you equip your employees with the information and tools to defend the company on their own social channels? When achieved properly, employees can counter misinformation within their networks and be an important defender of your reputation.