Social media has changed the communication game. Not only can your 8th grade best friend and your second cousin both see what you ate for dinner last night, but with a click or two you can share the kinds of humor that, decades ago, were email forwards. The days of email forwards were more apt to share urban legend than fake news, but as the technology has evolved so has the problem: now those clicks can turn political tides or earn massive money.
For businesses and individuals of every size, fake news can do serious brand damage.
Your Name is Mud
Ever hear the story of the origin of the expression, “Your name is mud”? After assassinating President Abraham Lincoln, actor John Wilkes Booth had broken his leg. He sought the care of a Dr. Samuel Mudd, who set the bone. Later, Mudd was arrested for his involvement.
It’s a great story, except that it’s false: Dr. Mudd’s name has been made synonymous with the expression, in what could be called a very early case of fake news destroying reputation.
In Mudd’s case, his own crime and the saying could be considered coincidence. Yet even in this digital age, coincidence can damage a reputation in business. Many companies have gotten wise to that fact, taking such precautions as:
- Searching for company name or advertising slogans before implementing them.
- Knowing what advertising will appear on your page, even if from outside vendors.
- Monitoring your ad placement to appear only in reputable places.
- Verifying sources before reposting stories.
Brands have shot themselves in the foot when they failed to follow such precautions.
Mud for Money
Fake news, slander, mudslinging–it’s all as old as any form of media. What changed, and came to light during the 2016 presidential election, had more to do with the ability to rapidly share news and the algorithms of money: scandalous (if false) news of the past may have sold papers for news agencies, but suddenly anyone could make money off of it.
According to research published by Stanford University, fake news stories were shared on social media sites nearly 40 million times, with “760 million instances of a user clicking through and reading a fake news story, or about three stories read per American adult.” Fake news favored both candidates, but what people read had more to do with their own ideology, “Democrats and Republicans are both about 15 percent more likely to believe ideologically aligned headlines.” Some speculation went so far as to say Clinton lost the election because of fake news.
To some Macedonian teenagers, it didn’t matter who won: they made money on those click-throughs.
Cleaning up the Mud
A positive reputation can attract top talent and key partnerships. For better or worse, “your reputation precedes you” holds true in the business world. Since most businesses get new leads from word-of-mouth, slander, fake news and a tainted brand can directly impact the bottom line in a way that cannot be wholly quantified.
Fortunately, the mud can be cleaned off by following these steps:
- Recognize the importance of a good reputation
- Engage a professional to help target appropriate-level clean up
- Correct where you have erred
- Practice transparency about faults during the process
- Educate your team about brand imaging
Steps such as these work for any business or professional: political pundits looking to regain national favor, or news anchors who lose their seat for broadcasting fake news. News agencies themselves could take a page from the book of clean-up and regain public trust.
Brand management, ideally, begins before it has been damaged by fake news. Contact us at Web Content Development to establish, publicize or repair your brand reputation today.