Changing the Narrative–How to Combat Fake News

At any point, an organization can find itself in the crosshairs of rumor, falsehoods, speculation and innuendo. The business mag Fast Company and others have identified combating intentional misinformation and “fake news” as a growing concern for companies and individuals. Jeff Bezos, Joel Osteen and even trusted and popular former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama have had to combat one or a combination of all the above. While these situations usually fall short of a crisis, if left to fester, any one could grow into a full-fledged crisis. It’s often the PR pro’s job–albeit rarely acting alone–to mitigate the situation and change the narrative. So what to do? Here’s some points we’ve learned to follow:

Review the facts. By this time, any number of people have likely weighed in with an opinion on the assumptions, presumptions and possibly ill intents that have taken ahold. Don’t be afraid to counter these with facts.

Stay on the offensive. Don’t let someone else’s alternative facts become your message points or organizational narrative. Organizations needn’t feel responsibility to address widespread speculation, but they should step forward to take control of the narrative with their own clear message and perspective related to the topic.

Avoid the defensive. Your job is not to draw more attention to falsehoods, misinformation, misconceptions, or intentional disinformation. Don’t let yourself or your story be usurped into someone else’s agenda. Stay affirmative.

Truth is your best defense. Organizations can combat rumors and falsehoods with the truth. That being understood, a credible and effective response incorporates facts, insight and perspectives that may not be widely known. An appropriate response doesn’t mean mindlessly attempting to address every speculation that comes up. Your audience expects (and deserves) a structured, coherent message based on relevant facts. Don’t disappoint.

The medium is part of the message. So now that you’re ready, don’t forget delivery is at least half as important as the message. Spokesperson, best method/platform for response, are all questions to be answered. Pick your time and your best audience, but don’t wait forever. We usually recommend a tandem method–in person, with your best spokesperson on the subject–and with immediate follow up on social media. Keep in mind, the goal is to never need to address this situation again.

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