Business Communications in an Era of Fake News

By Alfred Leach
NP Strategy

No one knows what to believe anymore. Misinformation, disinformation and propaganda are being shared from an ever-increasing breadth of “fake news” sources (from social media to fake websites to search engines). It can wreak havoc on your company’s bottom line: killing sales, impeding product performance and turning employees against you.

Recent examples include a fake report that Coca-Cola recalled Dasani water due to contamination from “clear parasites,” or Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg being featured on Instagram in a “deepfake” video saying control of data leads to control of the future, or a report that a London restaurant was serving human meat.

A March 2019 Pew Research survey revealed that 50% of Americans say fake news is a “big problem in the U.S. today,” and 78% of the survey’s respondents said they “fact check news themselves.” Companies need to be highly disciplined and up to date with their communications across all platforms to maintain credibility with key stakeholders.

Take inventory of your investment in the following areas:

    1. Alignment

Now more than ever, it is important for business leaders to assess staff alignment. Do you have experienced strategic counselors at hand? Are they effective and how do you know? Are your legal, HR, compliance, finance, PR and customer support teams aligned on what to do and say during a “fake news” incident? How often do you meet with them to ensure they are aligned? Do you have effective communications protocols in place to meet your board’s fiduciary and governance responsibilities?

    1. Values

Employees are your first (and main) line of defense to quash rumors, fake news and misinformation. CEOs can safeguard their companies by ensuring employees know and practice company values. It’s vital that employees “know who you are” as a company. Periodically surveying your team can be revealing and helpful toward understanding if they are embracing and advocating the company’s values. Ask employees: “Why do we exist?” “Why should our customers buy from us?” and “Why should you feel good about coming to work here every day?” Answers to these questions should be relatively consistent. If they aren’t, you’re lacking alignment and your communications are ineffective.

    1. Culture

What’s at stake for companies in today’s era of fake news?  TRUST. Don’t underestimate the importance of a culture of trust among your employees and customers. What you say and practice (eg, sustainability, work/life balance, fair pay, workplace conditions, etc.) all influence how deserving your brand is of respect. How employees deliver upon your company’s mission reveals a lot about how they and, ultimately, the public will perceive your intent.

    1. Truth Depot

While many businesses have decentralized operations to enhance their bottom line, productivity and decision-making, that structure is a breeding ground for rumors and false information. Consider introducing a centralized truth depot led by a “truth ambassador” to share facts with employees who, in turn, will advocate to customers and the public.

Fake news is cleverly disguised and omnipresent. And, the SPEED by which it spreads is everyone’s enemy these days. So, you need to have defense measures in place. Your organization’s reputation, sales, employee confidence and board governance depend on it.


NP Strategy Senior Advisor Alfred Leach is a seasoned strategic communications executive with more than 20 years of experience, that includes corporate and major-agency public relations work at Deloitte, Dun & Bradstreet, The New York Times and Burson-Marsteller (New York, NY), respectively. He leverages the power of business strategy and integrated communications to generate positive influence among key constituents to organizations and its leadership. He has counseled many of the world’s top brands, including Coca-Cola, GE, Rubbermaid, The New York Times, Dean Foods, and Fast Company on investor relations, corporate issues, thought leadership and brand management.