There was a time when fake news only affected politics and candidates in elections. But a recent trend has seen fake news begin to target brands.

The fact-checking website Snopes is full of fake news being busted, including a claim that Snapchat’s image feature filter “lenses” is covertly collecting a database of faces to share with law enforcement agencies. Another story about Starbucks offering free Frappuccinos to undocumented US migrants also circulated, though seemed to be politically motivated and started by a 4Chan user.

For PR professionals, this trend is of concern. Fake news has already caused havoc in the political sphere and causes reputational damage. Lies tend to travel much faster than the truth, and fake news is designed to travel quickly through the internet, meaning brands need to be switched onto the threat these lies present to the business.

To combat this, PR professionals must think about how to use listening tools and utilise community management to combat any fake news that does arise about their brand.

The role of community management and social listening

Whilst community management may suggest a single location, your community is built up of multiple locations throughout the internet: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+, Reddit, forums and comment sections on your blog or earned coverage.

Community management is very separate from social media marketing – it’s all about what happens beyond your social media publishing and positive engagement. It is dominated by listening to the internet and reacting when appropriate.

This act of social listening helps brands to monitor social media and other channels for mentions of the brand, competitors and products. This insight can be used to engage customers and monitor sentiment for your brand. It’s important to stress that social listening shouldn’t just be limited to Facebook and Twitter, and by casting a wider net you’ll get better insights from different platforms. The conversations on LinkedIn, for example, will be very different to those on Reddit.

There are many tools that help with social listening, however Hootsuite is a Firefly favourite and one we use for our own Twitter account, and to monitor the client’s Twitter accounts that we manage. There is a free version which is suitable for SMBs to use, but paid for options for larger companies that may have multiple feeds and accounts to manage. It can monitor your Twitter feeds, as well as Facebook and LinkedIn. Tools like TrackReddit are also good for tracking conversations about your brands in forums.

In the context of fake news, social listening tools like Hootsuite and TrackReddit can help brands to spot problems relatively quickly. With feeds to monitor your mentions and branded search terms, it’s easy to see how a brand can pick up on fake news and act swiftly to quell the story.

Squashing fake news

Squashing fake news is much like reacting to a crisis for your brand. You must react quickly, confidently and tackle the issue at hand, before it begins to cause long term problems. There are three things you need to know to tackle it effectively: what to look for, who to go to and how to react.

  1. What to look for: Being part of the communications and marketing team, you’re typically the best person to know whether a story about your brand is correct or not. Something about an article or a social media post will just inherently feel off to you. Most fake news websites will be sparse on details about themselves. If you have access to a media database like Gorkana, you can use that to check the legitimacy of a publication. Some fake news websites will even say they’re a fake news publication in the privacy and T&Cs section.
  2. Who to go to: Internally, it’s best to have a list of names you can go to in the event of verifying information, so you don’t delay on finding out who to go to for a specific issue. For example, if a fake offer is circulating about your brand then you need to know who in the marketing team is best placed to answer questions about promotions.
  3. How to react: Sometimes you may need to gather extra information from social media. The Starbucks team was able to quickly react to the fake news circulating about the brand on social media because it was able to dig out further information about the vouchers offering free drinks.

The speed of your reaction is one of the most important to squashing false claims made about a brand. The Starbucks team took a sensible approach – calling it out pretty much straight away – which any brand should follow in the situation. It’s difficult to take something down from the internet once it’s up, so once you’re confident, take a stance early on to call it out “this is false”, rather than trying to have articles taken down.

Brands and politicians are still waiting on Facebook and Google to properly counteract fake news with fact-checking services and verified publisher logos for news services. Fake news is not a problem that will go away overnight and with the rise of stories now targeting brands, it’s clear that community management and social listening has a huge part to play in reputation management.

Is it time to shape your reputation?

We operate in London, Paris and Munich, and have a network of like-minded partners across the globe.

Get in touch

Sign up to Spark, our newsletter

Receive thought pieces from our leadership team, views on the news, tool of the month and light relief for comms folk

You can unsubscribe at any time, please read our privacy policy for more information