Suddenly clients can’t be reached anymore and orders decline. You don’t know why until a journalist is knocking at your door confronting you with bizarre accusations that you can read in the local newspaper the following day, initiating another wave of nationwide news reports and order cancelations. Your investigations lead you to a Facebook page seemingly created by a former employee spreading a flier of fake news about you.
This really happened to a midsize company in a midsize German town. “This shows very well what can happen in times of social media if somebody holds a grudge at you”, says one of the company’s senior managers, that is slowly overcoming the blow. “We only survived because we’ve been in the market long enough for many to trust us.”
Of course, it’s not easy to recognize such an attack at an early state and in time to react. However, this is one of the most likely fake news attacks companies may suffer. But there are other tortures around. Some interest groups don’t shy away from attacking competitors – or sometimes driven by ideology – with unfair and often illegal means.
Fake News is not only a problem in politics and in our societies – but also for our businesses. However, at second glance it’s much less of a problem than it seems at first view. Of course, social channels are connected worldwide and once things become viral they can no longer be stopped. That’s a completely new situation: A shock when you are hit the first time. Governments react with foreseeable impulse, not with logic. Not only that the border between “free speech”, the fundament of our democratic societies, is very blurred, fake news will always find its way to those who believe in it and therefore censorship is a blunt sword.
On the other hand, what applies to fake news also applies to the opposite: Reaction to fake news is immediate and only a short while after the fake news is out a second wave, sometimes bigger than the first one, will come and flush it away! Only those who picked it up too early have a problem, an image problem for a serious media platform if it happens too often! In conclusion: Users and media learn quickly to double check material getting flushed on their screens.
This also helps companies under attack of fake news outlets. However, the situation is somewhat different: Usually the awareness of the communities is not focused on you and therefore the reactive wave will not come as fast or it needs to be initiated by you. “You always need to scan Facebook to see what is written about you and if something is bottling up against”, the midsize company senior manager quoted earlier learned. When you find out about trouble early enough it’s easy – or at least easier – to respond, either by identifying the attacker and getting him prosecuted before any harm is done or by initiating true stories opposing the lies in social media. At the same time, also traditional media should be informed by traditional ways. Don’t try to cover up things. This won’t work anyway. Offer interviews and be ahead of the negative (fake) wave.
Well, you will not always hit the right moment and sometimes harm has already been done. However, it is still a lot easier to handle it this way! There is no reason to panic. Only procedures must be adopted to the new situation. And scanning relevant social channels requires some extra effort and sometimes an extended PR budget. It is worth it!