Fake news isn’t just for politics or politicians anymore. Businesses are now finding themselves falling victim, with fake news touching on everything from business brands, products and practices. While the spread of certain stories might be politically or competitively driven, more-often-than-not, fake stories are spread by individuals or groups who simply seek the attention that social media can bring.

According to a recent Portland Business Journal story, Starbucks recently found itself doing damage control from a fake story.  Tweets, ostensibly from Starbucks, advertised “Dreamer Day;” a day where undocumented immigrants in the U.S. would receive free frappuccinos. The fake advertisement, which spread like wildfire on the internet, effectively used photos of the classic Starbucks cups and logo. Starbucks used traditional and social media channels to combat the false event, but its rapid spread on social media led to a temporary PR nightmare.

Similar instances have occurred for companies such as Costco, which was recently reported to have stopped selling memberships; Xbox, which was accused of creating a gaming console that killed a teenager; and Ulta, which was reported to be closing after a buyout. Monsanto even faced allegations from a story on WorldTruth.TV alleging that its pesticide products had caused cases of microcephaly in Brazil.

Allegations have been made and rumors started against companies for years. That is nothing new. But the legs that social media gives these rumors make it exceedingly difficult for companies to control or defend themselves.

Public relations companies are preparing high-profile clients for what to do when these false stories break out. Crisis communications has long been a reactive service. With the real time nature of today’s social media, however, companies are better served by thinking proactively by devising a crisis plan before the crisis arrives.

Companies that have found themselves targets of fake news stories have a number of options available. This includes traditional earned, paid and social media responses, as well as more unique grassroots methods designed to push the truth out to family, friends, employees, customers and other stakeholders. In addition, a good crisis management toolbox will include pre-developed messaging, a trained spokesperson, and a comprehensive digital communications, media monitoring and media relations strategy.

In short, the key to protecting yourself or your organization is to proactively prepare, consistently monitor and creatively respond. Doing these things will stop fake news early and keep it from doing any long-term damage.

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