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Crisis Comms for Fake News

Why all companies need to think about this NOW

What would you do if your company was the target of incorrect, or malicious, information or worse, real news? Do you have a plan? Read on for 3 tips to get your Crisis Communications Plan updated for the social media age. 

On a recent Asia Matters episode of the Asia Tech Podcasts (view it here), we discussed the announcement of Alibaba Founder and Chairman Jack Ma's "retirement".

More importantly, that the news was first released via the New York Times, reporting INCORRECTLY (either fake news or misinterpreted) that Jack Ma was retiring. For reference (don't share as correct, because it is wrong) click here.

It spread like wildfire! Soon it was on every major publication's news feed, and people were sharing it on their own social media networks.

Here's what that did to the share price:

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It took till the next day, for Jack to come out, and use a media company he owns, South China Morning Post (SCMP) to correct the news that in fact, he'd be announcing plans on Monday 10th September.

Jack Ma to Unveil Alibaba's succession plan - South China Morning Post

Maybe a 2% dip is inconsequential to a $420bn company when you're expecting to tell good news shortly, but this got me thinking:

How many companies have an appropriate crisis comms management plan in place in this day of rapid news distribution?

And if you don't happen to have a major news publication (eg SCMP) at your disposal, what's the fastest way to dispel rumours?

Here's the BIG, very simple, IDEA:

Start by asking your 5 or 50 or 15,000 employees share this on their social media accounts; then, use your partners and industry supporters to do the same.

For example: "Jack Ma has not announced his retirement. The article in the New York Times has misrepresented the facts. Please tune in on Monday here: where Jack will announce his plans. Please share this message to your networks."....

While yes, I am simplifying the art of Communication, Communications leaders today need to be more responsive, more agile and proactive. A response needs to be rapid, because that's the way our society communicates.

How would you do that?

A) Have a plan. If you don't already. Create one today.

  • A spreadsheet with action items in times of crisis is a good start. 
  • Prepare templates of expected risks, and how you may respond to them. 
  • Draw distribution trees. For different events, know which groups you may need to activate. 
  • Have a community support resource in place to respond to social media communications; someone senior enough, or who can delegate upwards well. People get angry, and fast on social media. You want someone to be able to manage discussions calmly and professionally, and listen for any risks.  

B) Prepare the people who you would call on in a time of crisis. Internal staff members and industry partners are a good start.

The strawberry industry in Australia are having a crisis at the moment with disgruntled employees and copy-cat delinquents placing needles inside strawberries. How did the companies, and the rest of Australia find out? Through social media.

I've been particularly impressed by the outreach from the Agricultural and Local Markets community to re-educate their customers on the best way to enjoy strawberries without danger; slice & dice!

strawberry farmers post ABC
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C) Invest in the technology to disseminate information quickly.

Use the same technology or methods your company uses in other crisis management situations.

Today, if a fire alarm is set off in an office building, there is a crisis management plan to sms/email/whatsapp/wechat/get in touch with every employee to verify their safety.

Couldn't we use the same technology to maintain the reputational safety of a company? And guard against the significant risks of misinformation, or fake news?

If you liked this article, please share it to your networks. As always, we'd love your feedback, especially if you're an expert in corporate comms and wish to share your experience with our community.


Priyanka Nadkarni

MD, Window Seat Group