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Chris Green

Published on

September 30, 2016


crisis communications, crisis management, Social Media

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.

5 Ways to Combat Weaponised Social Media

  1. Have dedicated people responsible for monitoring and responding to social media queries and claims. This can be in-house or an external specialist agency. The important thing is to be active in monitoring social and to have processes in place so that online issues can be escalated and acted on quickly and accurately.
  2. Social media is 24/7 – even if your business isn’t. Things can blow up at any time, so a plan for how to cover and deal with a swell in negative social discussion outside of normal business hours is essential. Mobile monitoring is fine, but someone on a time zone somewhere should always be watching for flashpoints.
  3. Move quickly when negative social traffic swells. The best way to kill a fictitious negative social build up is to swiftly and clearly refute and disprove the claim. Get a statement drafted, reviewed and approved quickly, so that mainstream media has your organisation’s legitimate statement to work with, not just unsubstantiated rumours.
  4. Social media is a conversation, your feeds need be more than just one-way traffic full of isolated posts and reposts of content. The most successful social media channels are the ones that also actively engage and respond to users, participating in conversations. Brands that are responsive naturally build trust and loyalty.
  5. Don’t feed the trolls! When negative social media hits – hold your nerve and bite your tongue. There is nothing to be gained from getting into a public argument with negative social media posters intent on causing trouble, so stick to approved statements and don’t be drawn off-message.
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