Corporate Reputation Management in the Post Truth Era and the Age of Fake News

What is Fake News and What is Post Truth

We live in times that have been called the Era of Post Truth and the Age of Fake News where facts are facts only in the sense that they are believed by individuals alone and it does not matter whether such facts are made up, debunked by others, proved to be lies, and are downright fake.

In other words, what one believes is the truth is the only thing that matters and there is no scope for objective evaluation and fact checking aspects. one can seen this from the numerous WhatsApp forwards world over and what more, even the President of the United States, Donald Trump, regularly tweets what he believes are facts and not what can be objectively verified.

In this context, it is challenging for anyone, whether they are celebrities, corporates, business leaders, or for that matter, professionals who are generally not in the limelight to protect their reputations since a single Tweet or Facebook Post or WhatsApp forward which is patently misleading and false and which goes viral can destroy their hard earned reputation in a matter of minutes and hours.

Why Corporates Must Protect Their Reputations from Fake News

The fact that corporates care about their reputation to the extent that they sometimes employ professionals communications experts as well as have dedicated Corporate Communications Functions to interface with the external world means that fake news can affect them to a degree that does not affect other entities.

Such effects can be seen in the way their products and services often rely on branding strategies for sales and marketing and their success depends on their brand image and how much their brand equity is manifest among consumers.

Indeed, if a fake Tweet or Facebook post goes viral and which targets their brands, corporates can be at the receiving end of such attacks and lose customers and the trust of other stakeholders.

Given the fact that we now live in a 24/7 world where instantaneous communications from anywhere and everywhere can affect anyone and everyone anytime and all the time means that their brand image can be shredded in a matter of hours and their reputations tarnished.

Thus, the central challenge of our times as far as corporates and their reputation management aspects are concerned is to ensure that they have the means to rebut and respond to Fake News and Post Truth Trends.

How Corporates Can Protect Themselves from Fake News

This can be done by employing dedicated PR or Public Relations firms whose mandate is to constantly scour the web for both news and fake news about them and react and respond as soon as possible in cases where the latter is the problem.

Further, their internal corporate communications staff can also develop extensive media contacts so that they can put out press statements and press releases either debunking the Fake News or rebutting it.

Indeed, this aspect of reacting and responding to Fake News must be a real time and full time job since with dedicated 24/7 news outlets, there is always the possibility of fake news spreading outside of working hours as well.

Moreover, corporates also need to look out for misleading news about their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activities since there is always the possibility that their societal outreach can be twisted into patently false allegations.

The reason why this is so important is that unlike Fake News about their brands or operations, their CSR activities involve multiple stakeholders who need to be contacted and made parties to the press releases and statements debunking the false allegations.

Why Corporates Must Shed Their Complacency about the Effects of Fake News

Having said that, it is also the case that many leading corporates are often complacent about Fake News not impacting them.

The reason for this belief is that all of them are often well poised and well positioned with the leading media outlets since they do provide the latter with much needed advertising revenues and hence, they are unlikely to carry fake news about them.

However, as can be seen in recent months in the United States, even leading corporates such as Nike which enjoys relatively positive media coverage despite the allegations of CSR violations, has been at the receiving end of Fake News once it took a stand against the Presidential Administration.

In addition, even if the mainstream media does not disappoint them, corporates need to worry about the many Millions of ways in which Fake News goes viral in times when anyone with a Smartphone can quickly make such news go viral.

How Fake News Represents a New Form of Risk

Indeed, the risks from the aspects discussed so far is the topic of a book by the former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, who lists out the ways in which corporate reputations can be shredded and their brand image tarnished in a matter of hours if they are not alert to such risks.

Further, she goes on to provide real world examples of how all corporates wherever they are based and whatever their operations are to be victims of fake news from malicious individuals. Note that we used the term individuals as for a long time, corporates used to worry about the threat of fake news from their competitors and it is only now that they are realizing how they can be impacted by anonymous entities.

These entities might not have the financial muscle of competitors of corporates but nonetheless have the power to damage their reputations. To conclude, it is time corporates took note of the repercussions of Fake News and do their bit to protect their reputations.

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