How To Protect Your Brand from Fake News and Misinformation

In 2023, all businesses need to beware fake news and misinformation. A misleading headline can wreak havoc on your business and prevent customers from working with you. Follow these five tips to protect your brand image. 

With authentic and trusted content highly valued on the internet, it is more important than ever to safeguard your brand’s reputation and marketing efforts from the potential damage that fake or misleading material can wreak.

Fake News Stamp on Facebook Post 

Despite the term ‘fake news’ making its way into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2019, the practice of sensationalism and speculative news has been a problem in society since the early 19th Century.

Inaccurate, misleading and sensationalist news has since been exacerbated through the use of social media. Many people receive most, if not all, of their news through social media rather than mainstream media outlets, and very few consider the legitimacy and credibility of the content they share.

Content that is rooted in pure conjecture, coupled with the speed and accessibility of sharing, presents a widespread problem. Millions of people are subjected to, oftentimes, misinformed and controversial opinions, cleverly disguised as factual pieces. In fact, 80% of US adults have admitted to consuming fake news.

Furthermore, businesses that have invested years of time and hard-earned money in legitimizing their marketing strategy and brands could ultimately be at risk.

With such accelerated news cycles, the risk of reputational damage grows increasingly higher. Therefore, it’s crucial that you know how to protect your corporate identity from any negative perceptions triggered as a result of fake news spreading. Fake news and misinformation can tarnish reputations and ruin consumer trust.

Therefore, brands need to know how to monitor, respond to, and mitigate the damage caused by false narratives.

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Differences Between Misinformation, Disinformation and Fake News

Firstly, it’s important to understand some crucial differences between some widely-used terms.

Misinformation refers to inaccurate information shared that manipulates people unintentionally. For example, if a story suggested that a company went bankrupt due to excessive debt, but that wasn’t the case, the inaccuracy is likely not intended to deliberately mislead people. It’s possible that there was a misunderstanding between the source and the author and that there was no intent to deceive readers.

Disinformation, conversely, refers to information that is deliberately shared to mislead or deceive readers. Some authors intentionally distort the truth, either by omitting crucial details in a story or through deliberate exaggeration or falsification.

Fake news, as a term, was coined by First Draft before being popularized to become a regular part of everyday vocabulary during the 2016 United States Presidential election. It refers to false or misleading information that is presented as news, regardless of intent, with sources that cannot be verified. Clickbait headlines, satirical commentaries, and unsubstantiated articles are common examples of fake news.

While these terms are often used interchangeably in online discourse, the salient point is that brands need to tread carefully when fabricated narratives can be created by anyone with an internet connection, and digested by millions of impressionable people. To put it into perspective, The Washington Times reported that misinformation got six times more clicks than factual news during the 2020 election!

How Can False Narratives Affect Businesses?

With false news, speculation spreading on social media like wildfire (not to mention potential cyber attacks), it can be a challenge for businesses to understand how their brand and wider marketing campaign can be affected.

Below are just a few of the dangers that could befall a business if they are targeted - indirectly or directly - by fake news.

  • Damage to brand reputation, which is very hard to recover from.
  • A widespread loss of trust from clients, customers or suppliers
  • An influx of resignations and terminations from clients, largely to protect their own reputations.
  • A decrease in sales and profits, possibly resulting in layoffs.
  • Impromptu changes in management or the board.
  • Potential alienation of current and future customers.
  • Further backlash, depending on how the company chooses to respond.
  • Higher upfront costs due to potential legal representation or crisis management.

Every business, whether a startup or a large-scale multinational corporation, can be subject to rumors. The content you share on social media needs to be carefully considered to boost your online reach and to safeguard the positive brand optics of your business. However, if you have a strong PR and communications response strategy in place and if you think carefully about your public persona on social media before and after a crisis, you can minimize the harm to your business. 

5 Ways to Protect Your Brand From False Narratives

Here are some simple yet effective tips that you can take on board to protect your brand and marketing strategy as a whole from the dangers of mis/disinformation and fake news.

1. Anticipate Fake News

Fundamentally understanding that misinformation could happen will ensure you have solid foundations to protect your brand should stories start circulating.

Of course, it can be difficult to predict what could emerge in possible news stories, but you will be better prepared by anticipating it than if you assume nothing will break. Anticipating misinformation will allow you to establish a proper response and supporting strategy for overcoming any claims made against your brand and, ultimately, moving on after the incident. 

By creating a regular newsletter that supports your marketing message, you are affording your business the opportunity to oversee and present blogs, case studies and news stories that speak directly to your customers. 

2. Build Your Online Presence

The best defense you can have against a barrage of claims and conjecture is a strong, credible and authoritative online presence. As part of your company’s digital marketing strategy, it’s likely you will have pursued different channels to grow your brand, reach more customers and establish authority in your sector. If you set out to become a trusted, reliable source for information and become known for providing efficient and proactive services or high-quality products, this will only help your reputation.

People will continue to find information online, whether it’s actively looking for solutions to particular problems or answers to a burning question they have. If you take steps to fill your website with research-backed, credible and verified information, this will work in your favor. 

Whether a site becomes a go-to healthcare resource or an e-commerce giant, visibility across all your online channels is crucial in this day and age. By cultivating a genuine and transparent digital presence, your reputation will be strong enough to fall back on should there be any profound speculation making the rounds online. 

3. Establish Brand Trust

If you have established a solid level of trust with your audience over time, it’s possible that they will defend you should any false narratives start circulating about your company.

It’s always helpful to have numerous clients, partners or suppliers support you, particularly once you issue a denial or counter-narrative to any claims or rumors that have spread.

Building long-term trust with your clients and customers should always be one of your primary business goals. If you manage to accomplish this with transparency, consistency and honesty, and exhibit those same traits following a fake news outbreak, you’ll stand a greater chance of maintaining trust. 

4. Develop a Response Strategy

A strong communications strategy includes sufficient preparation for any PR disasters and crises, including the spread of any fabricated information.

Establishing a detailed crisis plan that accounts for various situations with statements, points of contact, media lists, and so on, will allow you to issue a quick and direct response with increased confidence.

As you may know, speed and immediacy drive consumption of developing news stories these days - the first few hours are crucial. 

5. Allow Genuine Criticism

If any online narratives start targeting your brand following a false statement or an honest mistake, it’s crucial to hold yourself accountable. Being forthright and authentic when you’ve made a genuine error will foster a more receptive and less hostile response from your audience.

However, if you are adamant that no mistakes were made, then don’t succumb to the temptation of silencing anything negative about your brand online. The important point is to embrace the honesty of online reviews (the good and the not so good), taking the time to find the root cause of any misunderstandings or miscommunications and address it.

People will not react favorably to their criticisms being overlooked or silenced. However, by openly addressing valid criticism, you stand a better chance of turning a negative experience into a positive one, and diffusing a situation before it gets out of hand.

Your Brand Image Is Important; Take Steps to Protect It

If brands want to counteract and mitigate any misinformation then they need to be prepared. Building trust from the outset, building a solid online presence and establishing a clear communications strategy are paramount. Taking to social media and responding to criticisms and stories ad hominem is not.

It’s clear that fake news and misinformation remain a constant problem, but you can ensure your brand and entire marketing campaign remains protected if you take some proactive steps early on.


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