Brand Safety: Coping With Misinformation in the Digital Era
By Adwright, 24 August 2022
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
– Warren Buffet
The Pervasiveness of False Information and Fake News
In this digital age, a single click of the “share” button disseminates a piece of false information that can have far-reaching implications. The same effect is perpetuated by circular reporting, which refers to how one source publishes false information that is picked up by another source citing it as accurate, inadvertently kickstarting a cycle of multiple publications reporting on the same piece of information. Considering the chain effect that kicks in, it is not surprising that false information proliferates at an alarming speed.
In a 2018 report published by Science Magazine, the academic journal revealed that lies have a propensity to spread far quicker than the truth, namely due to a higher degree of novelty. It is this novelty that typically evokes strong emotional responses such as horror, surprise, and excitement – driving individuals to like, share, and otherwise engage with posts containing false information.
Whether or not a piece of false information was originally intended to deceive, we can probably all agree on one thing: once the information is put out, a brand that is implicated has its reputation immediately put at stake, and some degree of damage is inevitable. So, when brands find themselves in the hot seat, how should they proceed? What measures can they put in place to safeguard themselves?
Well, being embroiled in the proliferation of false information is not something brands can possibly predict. However, what brands have control over boils down to two key factors: having a plan for when it happens, and building a strong brand reputation.
Have a Clear Contingency Plan
Finding out that your brand is being smeared by individuals and/or the media will probably come as a slap in the face for any business owner and employee. While it may be tempting to uncover the intentions of the perpetrator first, nothing compares to the urgency of carrying out tangible solutions that will help mitigate the damage. In such a situation, a brand’s crisis management capabilities are truly put to the test. Below, we provide brief guidelines for damage control:
1 Correct the source of misinformation
Assuming the information is published by an individual or a media outlet, a brand should first and foremost, reach out directly to the source. It is crucial to articulate what exactly went wrong and support your explanation with proof. Finally, request for the published information to be amended and/or updated at the earliest possible time.
2 Take control of the narrative
Promptly inform your company’s stakeholders and publish a statement on your brand’s media platforms (eg. LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, official website) that clearly addresses the erroneous statement(s). Do not avoid engaging customers in the comments section – it is a great opportunity to highlight your brand’s transparency and regain customers’ trust by responding politely and warmly.
3 Keep your in-house legal counsel in the loop
As far as possible, it is recommended for a brand to settle disputes out of court, as taking legal action can result in more bad publicity, thereby exacerbating the original problem at hand. A legal team can help to prevent the often unnecessary escalation of issues by providing key advice on legal ramifications and facilitating the company’s interactions with third-parties. If a brand does not have in-house counsel, engaging external counsel is worth considering, as it is potentially time and cost-efficient in the long run.
4 Find out who is responsible for defaming your brand
Unless the false information is clearly an innocent error or oversight, an implicated brand should delegate a team to investigate the defamation. If not properly looked into, it is entirely possible for the company to be targeted again down the road.
Build a Great Brand Reputation
In a comprehensive article on brand reputation by Harvard Business Review, the writers posit the following:
“Contingency plans for crisis management are as close as most large and midsize companies come to reputational-risk management. While such plans are important, it is a mistake to confuse them with a capability for managing reputational risk. Knowing first aid is not the same as protecting your health.”
Indeed, good crisis management can prevent a company’s further fall from grace. However, good risk management is a prerequisite for easier and more effective crisis management. When it comes to branding, reputation is arguably a company’s most valuable asset. When a company has a questionable reputation to begin with, a smear campaign or misinformation can be all it takes to cause irreparable damage to its name.
In other words, good brand reputation lays the foundation for good risk management, and good risk management lays the foundation for effective crisis management. It comes down to the idea of brand equity – the inherent value a brand has based on consumer perception and experience. Essentially, the higher the brand equity, the less vulnerable a company is in the face of unforeseen calamities.
Less than a month ago, the Singapore Food Agency reported high amounts of benzoic or sorbic acid in the products of nine kueh manufacturers. In an article published by Yahoo! News, the cover photo featured kuehs manufactured by HarriAnns, with the brand name emblazoned on the tray the kuehs were set on. There was one problem though – HarriAnns was not one of the nine manufacturers embroiled in this incident.
Swiftly taking to social media to address and clarify the news outlet’s blunder, HarriAnns emphasised that the company is “totally unrelated to the nine said companies” and thanked their customers for their “immense trust in the quality and food safety” of its products. Indeed, a quick glance at the heritage brand’s Instagram and Facebook comments section reveals the outrage of many patrons, who insisted on an apology from Yahoo! News.
Although Yahoo! News has since updated the cover image of their article alongside a clarification and an apology, the damage inflicted is not something HarriAnns can undo or effortlessly recover from. In a study, it was found that reading a single fake news article is sufficient to change an individual’s opinion about a brand for the worse. Worryingly, this holds true even if the individual is a discerning reader who is aware that the source might not be credible. Therefore, in a situation where accidental/intentional defamation is concerned, a good brand reputation serves to help cushion the devastating blow. In fact, it is quite possibly the factor that determines whether a brand will make it out of the PR disaster alive.
At Adwright, we understand the paramount importance of having a reputable brand image. With our finesse and experience in curating strategic brand messages, we create the brand equity needed for marketing to succeed. While we are experts at building brand assets, it is our clients who play the biggest role in building trust with their customer base. After all, where there is trust, there is loyalty – the key factors that determine a brand’s reputation.
Adwright is an award-winning integrated branding agency in Singapore with over 25 years of experience in the industry and counting. We have collaborated with clients ranging from local SMEs to global corporations, spanning across many industries. We provide integrated solutions in branding, design, communications and beyond to help you bring your brand’s presence to market. Partner with us and embark on your unique brand journey today. To find out more about the services that Adwright provides, call us today at +65 6227 7227 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.