We recently watched the challenge that McDonald’s faced with a hoax that falsely suggested that the global company discriminates against African-American customers. Is your organization prepared?

At AHA, we often develop crisis communication strategies, plans and manuals for clients. We recently worked on a crisis plan for a client that included a section on how to respond if a hoax hits their brand. The online world has changed communication and facing a crisis or issue, which may include a hoax. Many communicators know this, but are experiencing a challenge in getting the senior executives, CEO, Board of Directors or Board of Governors to realize how crucial it is that social media is included as a part of any communications plan (issue and crisis or a proactive, day-to-day approach).

A good plan needs to be strategic. It also needs to recognize how the online world has influenced how an organization communicates and how stakeholders expect to receive information. Think about how the online world could take hold of a hoax related to your organization and expand its reach on a global level. That thought should make you sit up straight and think about how your organization might react.

There are some initial questions that we would ask a client if there was even a slight chance that your organization could be the target of hoax. Here are a few of them:

  • Does your organization have a proactive strategy in place? If the first time you reach out online is to stop rumours or a hoax, you are already at a disadvantage. A proactive strategy both online and in the real world is important.
  • Are you connecting with your stakeholder groups on a daily basis?
  • Do you know who the critics and supporters of your organization are and where they communicate online? If you don’t know where they gather online, how will you know what is being discussed? (And, if you aren’t aware of their style and tone prior to an issue such as a hoax, you will have challenges connecting with these individuals and groups.) Understanding the people involved in either creating or perpetuating the hoax is also important because if you don’t know who the community is, you will have no basis in making a strategic decision regarding a response (including not responding at all, in some specific cases).
  • Do you have the right processes in place to move quickly should there be a hoax that impacts your organization? If it is appropriate that you respond, then you need to respond quickly. If your organization takes days to respond, the hoax has all of that time to build momentum and that can make it much harder to bring the truth to light.

It is important that you honestly answers these questions and make sure that you are connecting with stakeholders proactively, that you are aware of where your supporters and critics live online (and in the real world) and that you have streamlined your process so that, if it is strategic to do so, you can respond quickly and accurately should your organization be targeted with a hoax.

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