September 30, 2016
True or false, negative discussion and rumour on social media has the power to bring down companies and public figures.
Short-haul airline Monarch has become the latest organisation to feel the force of negative social media speculation. As I write this, news reports are full of speculation over the state of the business, reports that the airline has swiftly denied and countered with reports of its financial health. Nonetheless, speculation about its alleged collapse surfaced from customers on the company’s Twitter feed over the weekend, triggering a barrage of mainstream media reports this morning.
Regardless of the motives behind it, the Monarch story is just one example of how – inadvertently or intentionally – negative social media chatter can build into mainstream coverage, effectively weaponising it and damaging public perception of and trust in a brand or individual.
Take, for example, the incident when fast food chain Burger King had its Twitter account hacked, and used to announce – falsely – that it had been acquired by rival McDonalds. The announcement was completely false, but still managed to create a major social media and mainstream swell of coverage and reposting. This resulted in many people believing for a time that Burger King had indeed succumbed to its rival.
Fake deaths also illustrate the power of social media to amplify false, negative statements. Platforms have been credited with falsely announcing the demise of several high profile individuals. Notable examples include the musician Cher and the actor Morgan Freeman, both of whom were caught in a swell of false online claims of death that grew rapidly. Also, the late actor Patrick Swayze, who while suffering from terminal cancer fell victim to a spoof Twitter post declaring he had passed when he was very much still alive. Not only did these hoaxes develop momentum online, but were also fuelled by spiralling retweeting and reposting by legitimate news sources that failed to fully check facts before relaying the information.
Of course, reputation assassination by media is nothing new. Lest we forget what happened to the jewellery chain Ratner’s. After one off-hand comment from its founder in 1992, negative press coverage built, without the help of social media, until it all but ended the retailer. Today, Ratner’s is no more, having been absorbed by its sister chain H. Samuel.
To be blunt, the reputation of your business can be completely shot, and potentially unrecoverable within 24 hours if you do not take swift, decisive and consistent action. If you do not refute and disprove negative social media claims in a clear, professional and business-like way.