Crisis Management in the Age of Disinformation

Fake news is a nightmare for brands, and fixing a brand’s reputation is an uphill one. The worldwide dissemination of misinformation is probably as old as the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press. Hoaxes and fake information against the brands have spread worldwide for at least a few centuries. In 2017, the famous coffee brand Starbucks became a victim of fake news when a fake news ad spoke about the company declaring August 11 as Dreamers Day, under which all American immigrants would receive a 40% discount. The fake ad campaign was run under the hashtag #borderfreecoffee. However, the company Tweeted about the ad and said, “This is completely false. Starbucks is not sponsoring any such event. Please do not spread misinformation.”  Starbucks swiftly and politely responded through social media to stop the ad campaign from spreading further. 

One such case of the leading brand PepsiCo happened when a fake news story about Pepsi’s CEO, Indra Nooyi, telling Trump supporters to “take their business elsewhere” spread on social media. This fake news spread on social media like wildfire, causing the company’s stock to fall around 4% just before the 2016 US presidential election, and the company had to face a backlash with hashtag #PepsiBoycott.  

In the era of misinformation, brands should be able to manage crises such as supply chain disruption, cyber attacks, recession, inflation, etc., to preserve their brand’s reputation better. According to researchers, when faced with false and damaging allegations, brands must seek good PR advisors and lawyers – probably ones who will communicate effectively from the outset. Whether small or big, companies must consider practical tips to tackle crises in the realm of misinformation. 

Understand The Reality Of The Situation 

Without knowing the situation, it becomes difficult for organisations to handle it swiftly and effectively. When recognizing the reality of the case, you acknowledge your limitations during a crisis, no matter how cumbersome it might be. According to the Harvard Business School Online Business Insight’s blog on Leadership Under Pressure: Strategies For Keeping Calm Under The Crisis, “While a problem can seem overwhelming initially, the best way to approach it is to break it down step-by-step. Doing so can help you understand the circumstances clearly, enabling you to work closely with your counsel, prioritise your next steps, and delegate effectively.” 

Take Crisis Protocols In Advance 

Whenever there is a crisis in the company, have a dedicated person internally responsible for making sound decisions, offering instructions, and finally nominating a person to deal with the situation or press. 

Get Advice From PR Or Lawyers 

Determining the severity of the situation and allegation and identifying where the threat comes from must be considered. Organisations must be able to form different strategies for tackling every scenario. They must decide on the right communication channels, which could include direct communication with the source of the story, putting out public statements, or speaking to the press as well. The advisor must understand the situation, including where the weakness lies and other necessary things to be considered. 

Having a board of advisors is paramount in tackling a crisis. Former US President F. Kennedy always relied on his brother, and Abraham Lincoln had two secretaries and a cabinet from which he frequently sought input. Harvard Business School Professor Nancy Koehn says, “Great leaders have people around them who understand how to maintain a grounded, calm presence, and it’s important they have advisors who are calm as well.”

Cultivate Discernment 

In a crisis, one loses self-control and does everything that leads to total loss. As a business owner, you must stop and evaluate the reaction and its impact on the team rather than overreacting. Acting like a calm in the storm will provide direction and stability to handle crises effectively. Harvard Business School Online says, “It’s common for leaders to react poorly in high-stress situations. Specifically, 53 per cent become more closed-minded and controlling during times of crisis instead of open and curious. A further 43 per cent become more angry and heated.” 

Koehn says that in a crisis, it’s essential to take a deep breath and remain as calm as possible—especially as the stakes rise or as circumstantial turbulence accelerates—before responding to move forward with an actionable plan and avoid creating mass panic.

Deafening brands against fake information is a never-ending cycle as the world is surrounded by haters or non-humans (bots) that also lead to the spreading of fake news on social media platforms. During crisis management, effective strategy management is crucial to sailing the boat. 

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