|Kendell Fitter and Deirdre Walsh co-authored this article.
The spread of false and misleading claims has long challenged corporations of all sizes and industries. Whether it’s whisper campaigns amongst competitors with malicious intent, or rampant negative product reviews on TikTok from a misinformed customer, misinformation and disinformation can have a material impact on a business. Despite some efforts to help curb the spread of these claims, the issue shows no signs of slowing down.
As generative artificial intelligence becomes further integrated into everyday life, the problem of distorted narratives is becoming more sophisticated and even more widespread. We see it in the form of political parties leveraging AI to create “warning videos” of what the world would look like if an opposing party secured re-election and sophisticated users generating convincing propagation of their claims in the form of news reporting, reviews and whistleblowing. In general, it has become more and more challenging for everyday users to decipher what’s real —and can be verified—and what’s fabricated.
As these tools become more powerful, even with increased safeguards and legislation, it’s important that companies prepare themselves to identify, mitigate and respond to false claims. The proactive management of these issues can prevent a small issue from escalating to a crisis with long-term reputational impact.
As companies impose their own safeguards, they should consider the following tactics:
Implement a tracking system and determine levers for escalation. Equip your communications and/or social teams with the right tools to track mentions of your company, as well as your competitors and industry, so you can be aware of and prepare for the potential impacts of an industry-wide issue. With monitoring tools in place, ensure your team also has the right data inflection points to help them determine when they might escalate an issue of concern to leadership. Advanced tracking tools and an escalation plan are fundamental for a communications team, particularly given the growing sophistication of AI tools.
|This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jan. '24 Crisis Communications & PR Buyer's Guide Magazine
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Establish a publicly available resource hub for key stakeholders. A dedicated hub of questions and answers on company-owned channels can save your team time and energy when managing both customer and media inquiries. It also will demonstrate that this information was created proactively and not just in reaction to an emerging issue. The resource hub will allow you to quickly counter any claims by pointing inquirers to the hub and ensure that your answers are consistent and discoverable.
Verify leadership social accounts. Executives—especially CEOs without verified and optimized digital profiles—are reputationally vulnerable. With threats of online impersonation and the spread of misinformation rising, particularly with AI, optimized digital profiles become especially important when facing critical issues. Social media is a key information driver in critical moments, making it more important than ever for executives to have verifiable, owned and updated online profiles.
Determine key spokespeople and conduct media training and preparation. When we work with our clients, the goal is always to manage an issue before it escalates to the point of requiring a company spokesperson to get involved. That said, it’s important to identify spokespeople and train them to represent the company should the need arise. On-camera practice with key company messaging and questions and answers, as well as recommendations on how to engage with the media and other key stakeholders, is an effective way to arm your spokespeople with the tools to confidently speak to the media and key stakeholders amidst critical moments.
Identify third-party advocates to bolster your narrative. While it’s important for a company to tell its own story, it can be incredibly additive to leverage third-party voices to amplify your narrative. Whether that support comes from industry experts, employees, partners or other key stakeholders, it’s critical that a company continually cultivates those advocates. This includes having third-party testimonials in place on owned channels or ready and available to disseminate at the right moment.
In today’s environment, it’s a matter of “when” not “if” you or your company will be faced with false claims and misrepresentation of the facts. Implementing the tactics above, in addition to developing a communications plan that considers the most prominent risks your company faces, will better prepare you to navigate and counter the spread of inaccurate information so that your stakeholders know where the truth lies.
Whether your company seeks to prepare against the proliferation of misinformation or is facing false claims amidst the increasingly unstable macroeconomic and social environment, H/Advisors Abernathy can support you in protecting your business and mitigating reputational damage while returning your organization to normal.