How can brands protect themselves from misinformation? - The Social Element
misinformation

How can brands protect themselves from misinformation?

In 2019, a video showing two toddlers running to hug each other went viral.

In June 2020, President Trump tweeted an edited version of the video, one which showed the portion of the video where the babies ran off in the same direction. It was overlaid with CNN branding and made it look like the news channel was calling one of the toddlers racist. The clip also decried the ‘fake news’ for spreading…fake news.

Twitter flagged the video as manipulated media. But Facebook did not. 

Both platforms only removed the video when one of the baby’s parents filed a copyright claim.

We’ve talked about how brands can deal with deepfakes, but how can they deal with general misinformation when someone decides to target them?

Why it matters

Some may wonder if it matters that much if someone uses a brand for fake news. After all, we’re in the age of the meme, and for most people, it’ll only be a bit of fun with photoshop. 

However, some brands have seen their share price take a hit because of fake news, and foreign governments are starting to use manipulated media to cause trouble for other nation’s stock markets.

There are also more qualitative considerations. Evidence suggests that consumers now see businesses as unethical. Trust is vital for brands, but it’s almost impossible to develop trust when people have no faith in the brand’s intentions and no information about the positive changes they make in the world.

Five ways brands can protect themselves from fake news and manipulated content

  • Focus on continually building trust through clear information and by following your values. Brands inspire trust when they have a history of doing what they promise and acting to support their values. For example, if you’re always involved in PRIDE, but your LGBTQ+ employees don’t feel supported during the rest of the year, the brand’s actions will appear performative and insincere. Act like this more than once, and people will start to be skeptical of whatever the brand says.
  • Allow genuine criticism and show that you’re taking feedback on board. It may be tempting to try to silence negative comments on your Facebook page, but it’s much more powerful to find out what the root of the problem is and address it. If people feel that their criticisms are being silenced, they’re more likely to go platforms the brand doesn’t control and become hostile and distrustful of the brand. It’s easy to believe viral stories about a brand that you’ve already had an unresolved negative experience with. By addressing valid criticism head-on, brands have a chance to turn a negative experience into a positive one.
  • Don’t use clickbait headlines and always use authoritative sources for content. Some legitimate media outlets still use clickbait to get people to click on articles. It helps articles go viral and gets more eyes on ads. (In fact, Twitter has recently introduced a feature that reminds people to read articles before they retweet them.) It might be tempting to use hyperbolic language to get people interested in content, but people need to see that brands are trustworthy and that the information they share can be relied upon. Otherwise, it can make it hard to distinguish the genuine information from the fake content.
  • Specialize in the brand’s area of expertise. While it can benefit brands to get involved in political and social matters, it’s much more effective when brands comment or campaign in areas that have always been strongly linked to their products, services or values. For example, a fashion retailer promoting things like ethical production and consumerism, and diversity in advertising, will have a strong impact. Become an authority that people trust in your area of expertise.
  • Include ‘fake news’ in your crisis strategy. All brands should have a fake news strategy in place for if or when things go wrong. Plan how to communicate the facts quickly and clearly. But keep in mind that unless the brand has spent time building a reputation for transparency and being a consistent and reliable source of information, it could be difficult to stop people believing what they read. 

Trust plays a key role in the spread of information and misinformation. We often share stories that we see shared by trusted friends, family members and people in our online communities and sometimes we don’t stop to read the article or critically assess the information we’re reading. It looks or feels real, so who’s to say it isn’t?

If brands want to counteract misinformation they need to do the groundwork of building trust in the brand by communicating clearly, factually and consistently – this helps people get to know the brand and makes it easier to evaluate what’s being said about it online.

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