As an entrepreneur, you are operating at a
time of incredible advantages. Our digital age has resulted in the ability to
connect with clients and partnerships without being restricted by geographical
borders. eCommerce and digital marketing are accessible tools for even small businesses. Yet, connected technology has also resulted in the
widespread dissemination of fake news.
It’s almost difficult to fathom that we are living in a post-trust era. So much of our lives — from politics to health communication — is subject to dishonest reporting from online sources that we have to be extra vigilant. Not to mention that false claims can cause serious disruption and lasting damage to a company. This isn’t just an issue for large conglomerates, either. It can affect mom and pop concerns, too.
So what can you do to protect yourself? What tactics can you employ to limit the damage caused and bolster consumer trust?
One of the most frustrating aspects of fake news is your inability to control it. As a business owner, you’ve worked hard to build the right messaging for your business and to communicate your values. When the actions of somebody outside of your business alter that, it can be frustrating. Let’s look at some of the common forms this takes and how you can deal with them.
- False or Exaggerated Reviews
This is likely to be one of the primary forms of fake news you’ll come across as a small business owner. Trustpilot, Google, and Amazon are probably going to be the most likely venues here. There are procedures in place to take down false reviews by filing a report with the host, but this can take some time — by which time damage could already be done.
The best approach is to publicly respond to these reviews, and treat them as though they are genuine complaints. Be open, express regret that they seem to have had a bad experience, address the specifics of the complaint, and invite them to work with you to resolve the problem. Even if they don’t respond, customers can see that you have made genuine efforts in the matter.
- Social Media Posts
Your social channels can be a tricky area. While your accounts can be a powerful business tool for building your brand and connecting with customers, they can also leave you vulnerable. Malicious posters can tag your business in defamatory posts, and if you haven’t happened to check your socials that morning, these could be shared before you’ve been able to respond.
This is where social media management software can be useful, particularly if you’re utilizing more than one platform at a time. Most services will alert you to tags and comments across all your platforms in one place. This allows you to immediately address them when problems occur. Then approach your responses from a customer service perspective. Perhaps the worst thing you can do is get defensive and get in an argument with a customer. Be firm on your position, but demonstrate that your first priority is to help.
Right alongside your customers, fake news also has the potential to impact your staff and your network. If there is a news announcement that paints your company in a bad light or a false accusation, the confidence of your staff and partners can be shaken.
You must establish a set of robust communications protocols. This is a key skill you should be refining throughout your leadership, alongside your passion, respect, and ability to be humble. All of which have a place in communication during these scenarios. Make certain that as soon as the fake news hits, you provide a full, frank, and honest response across your entire communications network. Be sure that everybody connected to the business knows that you find the situation concerning, that it is contrary to your values and that though you firmly consider them to be false, you are still committed to investigation. Set expectations for how you intend to proceed and keep communicating throughout.
It’s also vital that you maintain an open dialogue. Rumors breed amidst silence. Invite your staff and your network to come to you if they have any concerns or anything they want to talk about. All communication must be transparent to give staff the confidence that they have access to the truth. This is about maintaining a culture of honesty, and demonstrating that you have nothing to hide.
Unfortunately, there may come a time in which the falsehoods directed at your business require legal action. Suing should never be your first response. Particularly for small businesses, this can be extremely costly, though it can send a firm message to those peddling fake news in the future.
Remember that suing for defamation is subject to a strict set of qualifications. The onus is on you to prove that the claims are defamatory (that the communications are intended to harm your reputation), targeted, and published, among others. You must begin to gather evidence on all of these points as early as possible; if the defamation is purely online, take screen grabs and note URLs in case they are deleted later.
Remember that suing for slander in itself is not a solution. When successful, it certainly provides you with proof that the claims were declared false in a legal setting. However, you have to bear in mind that a lawsuit is usually a lengthy process, and therefore it should be part of a combined effort. Alongside preparing your legal response, also put effort into resolving the issue by creating content that presents the truth of the matter. Provide the public and your employees with resources that take them directly to the truth.
Fake news is prevalent throughout our lives. As a business leader, your best defense against its damaging effects is keeping open, taking a customer service stance, and continually communicating. A lawsuit can help recuperate some of the costs of defamation, but you should also take immediate action that safeguards your reputation, and highlights your values.