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The Era of Fake News:

How Brands Under Attack Can Regain Their Social Media Credibility

The spread of misinformation has always been present throughout history. Since the emergence of social media on the internet, the spread of ‘fake news’ occurs often and at a rapid speed. For instance, about two-in-three adults in the U.S. (64%) say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events. In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year was chosen to be post-truth – an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

When we hear the term ‘fake news’ we often think of the latest bogus story about a celebrity or politician. As we move through this digital age, ‘fake news’ not only affects celebrities and politicians but can also affect companies and major brands. I will highlight several major brands that found themselves caught up in dealing with ‘fake news.’ In 2016, Pepsi and New Balance had the huge task of responding to false allegations that affected their reputation as well as their bottom line.

PEPSI 

As 2016 came to a close, the citizens of the United States were tense. With the U.S. Presidential election fresh on everyone’s mind, many people were excited about the results, some expressed their disappointment with Trump winning the election. One of those displeased was PepsiCO CEO, Indra Nooyi (a supporter of Hillary Clinton).  She discussed the impact of the election with Andrew Ross Sorkin at The New York Times‘ DealBook conference by saying in part, “I had to answer a lot of questions, from my daughters, from my employees, they were all in mourning”.  After that interview it was widely reported that Nooyi stated that Trump supporters should take their business elsewhere, in turn sparking a major push for the boycott of Pepsi products. Snopes, a fact-checking site, reported the claims against Nooyi were false, but the damage had been done. Pepsi’s stock fell  and their reputation was hurt.

NEW BALANCE

New Balance also fell victim to fake news after the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Apparently, the vice president of public affairs of New Balance said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that, “The Obama admin turned a deaf ear to us & frankly w/ Pres-Elect Trump we feel things are going to move in the right direction.”  Soon after, customers were tweeting pictures of their new balance shoes burning on side walks and in trash cans. They were angry for the company ‘celebrating a Trump victory’. The company official later clarified his remarks pointing out it was about President-elect Trump’s stance against the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. They stated, “As the only major company that still makes athletic shoes in the United States, New Balance has a unique perspective on trade in that we want to make more shoes in the United States, not less,” a spokesman for New Balance told CBS News via email. “New Balance publicly supported the trade positions of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump before election day that focused on American manufacturing job creation and we continue to support them today. We believe in community.” Again, the company’s stocks fell and their reputation was hurt.

 So, how can brands avoid being targeted for fake news? 

I believe that staying objective is key. CEO’s should leave out their personal beliefs as much as possible when giving interviews or making statements as representative of the companies they work for. In the instance of Nooyi, she is a vocal Hillary Clinton supporter. So, when she said that they were ‘in mourning’ over the election results, it made her a target for the launch of fake news. Is it right for her to be such a target, no but if she was have just congratulated the President on his victory (which she did) and leave it at that. Pepsi may have avoided at hit to their bottom line.

In the case of New Balance, their situation may have been avoided had the company representative been clearer on the issues they were speaking about (TPP).  They could have also outlined by the Obama plan on trade hurt their company and why they thought Trump had a better plan for their business. People may have still have been upset, but a least the company’s intention were clear from the beginning.

If Brands are Targeted, How Can They Deal With the Fake News Fallout and Regain Their Social Media Credibility?

If a brand is a victim of fake news, they need to issue a statement immediately. It needs to identify the source of the false accusation and reiterate their company’s mission. To go further than just a brand to consumer statement, I think that the brand could rapidly squash rumors of fake news by letting their employees speak out on social media. By letting the employees come to the defense of the company, they would come across as authentic and credible. I think there would have to be some guideline training for employees to act as advocates on behalf of their companies, but it could be extremely beneficial to counteract rumors and the mistruths of fake news against the company.

An article by Fast Company, 5 Steps to Reclaim your Credibility After You Screw Up, give some good tips that brands could use to regain social media credibility.

  1. OWN IT
  2. APOLOGIZE
  3. LOOK FOR–AND COMMUNICATE–IMPROVEMENTS
  4. STOP THE SELF-FLAGELLATION
  5. LEARN FROM THE SITUATION

Bottom line- We all make mistakes. How brands deal with Fake News can determine how well they bounce back from a situation.

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