When it comes to Fake News, those of us working in PR-land have always had a bad rap.
As a journalist, the arrival of a press release – before cut and paste became a thing – sparked a maelstrom of suspicion of Watergate proportions.
What was the release really saying? What was missing?
What was being covered up? And this was just a school fete report destined for a down-page picture caption in Community News.
Now working on the other side of the fence, you get to see the reality. The missing detail is 99.999% of the time not a sign of a huge conspiracy or an attempt to deny the public the truth.
More often than not the release will be based on all the available approved information from your agency business client or public-sector official. The other 0.111% time there is a conspiracy, but you’re not at liberty to say more for legal reasons.
Timing will also be a factor. Traditionally, the main focus of any PR story is to maximise coverage, to offer an exclusive here, encourage a follow up there and galvanise a reporter (or news-editor) to use your expertly crafted prose (complete with ready made hook and quotes) verbatim, or at least pique interest in attending an event or making contact to set up an interview.
These days, it’s not just journalists that quibble over a PR’s worth. Social media is where reputations are made and trashed and where stories – debunked with abandon – continue to enjoy a life online – with truth based on shares and a starting point of whatever world view your Twitter follower holds dear.
So, what can you do as a business or organisation to change perceptions of your plan, service or product; deal with online trolls and critics; trumpet your successes without spinning out of control.
These are my Ostrich rules to help your company to rise above it all, to know when and when not to react, and to lose that Fake News tag amongst those who count.
Don’t be an ostrich…
There is no use sticking your head in the sand and hoping it all goes away. It won’t.
Or at least try to be a sociable ostrich…
Raising your head above the parapet takes some guts, but handled in the right way you will win friends and potentially influence people. Be open, be honest.
Be a networking ostrich with its head held high
Building relationships is as key now as it has always been for building trust and respect. That doesn’t mean you should reveal everything when asked.
Be a self-aware Ostrich that always delivers
Know what you want to say – or can say – and stick to it with a pledge to say more when you can. If you deliver on that, you’ll be fine.
Be a helpful Ostrich mediator
On social media signpost people to where they can get more info. Take the sting out of what can often be understandable anger, however misplaced it might be. Adopt a Customer Service approach.
Be a listening Ostrich.
Just because someone is critical, doesn’t mean you should take it personally. Take on board comments, thank people for their feedback, correct mistakes or debunk nonsense. Don’t call views nonsense. Mistaken is less loaded. Don’t argue back.
Be a red lined Ostrich
Make blocking social media followers your last resort but have red lines in place for when you should. Explain to followers that you have a conduct policy in place and won’t tolerate abuse or anything libellous.
Be a full picture Ostrich
For journalists, you are dependent on their professionalism and that they will include both sides of the story. For a negative story, get your statement and key messages ready. Put everything in context. It will ensure that any reportage is fair and factual, especially if there are actions being taken to fix an issue.
Don’t be an Ostrich (reprised)
At the end of the day, being an Ostrich is all well and good and we’re sure they perfectly happy, but it won’t help your business. With journalists, getting to know your local media will pay dividends – helping to lift the profile of your business and giving you more of a hearing when things go wrong. It won’t mean that a negative story won’t get published, but may mean, for example, you’re allowed more time to respond.
On social media, people will always be entitled to their view. Understand that, engage wherever possible, be approachable, open (wherever possible) and fair and you’ll be fine.