Rumor Has It: Dealing With Social Media Gone Amok

Close-up of panicked womanDid you hear? Louisville, KY went nuts on August 15 after a high school student announced on Twitter that the city would get one day to commit crimes without any consequences.

The student says the post, which was inspired by the film "The Purge: Anarchy," was never meant to be taken seriously. But, unfortunately, it was.

As the rumor quickly circulated across social media, Louisville erupted in violent outbreak. Soon the rumors also spread to other cities, like Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New York.

The "purge" drives home an important point that you, as a marketer, need to remember: Word travels fast on social media. Thankfully, your business probably won’t ever experience anything as severe as what happened in Louisville, but when word of mouth goes wrong, the effects to your business can be detrimental.

So what can you do to take back control of rumors before they get out of hand?

Stay in the Loop

Closely monitor everything people are saying about your business on social media channels so that you can take action as soon as a rumor rears its ugly head. Whether you use a free search alert tool such as Google Alerts or pay an agency to dig up news about what people are saying about your company, you gotta stay in the know.

Bonus tip: If you’ve started seeing some buzz around a particular rumor, you can use intelligent speech-recognition technology to see if your customers and prospects are bringing it up during their phone conversations with your company.

Respond Appropriately

A few years ago, Forbes did a study testing a few different strategies for stopping a rumor:

  • Denial — Simply state the rumor is untrue.
  • Re-association — Focus on the upsides of the rumor.
  • Questioning of Confidence — Ask consumers if they can be confident the rumor is true.

The moral of the story? Don’t just deny a rumor. Redirect it.

Instead of trying to stop people from talking about what’s going on with your brand, encourage them to talk about the right things!

Seek out Some Role Models

If you find yourself faced with a nasty rumor, know that other brands have been in your shoes before. Find some brands that successfully handled rumors and learn from their examples. Here are a few to get you started:
  • Taco Bell — When people started claiming the fast-food chain didn’t use real meat in its tacos in 2011, Taco Bell released a full ingredient list of its tacos. (Spoiler alert: There was no fake meat listed.)
  • Coke — The Coca-Cola Company is no stranger to rumors. People have claimed that Coke used to be green, the aluminum in the drink cans leads to Alzheimer's disease and rat urine on a soda has killed a consumer. To keep on on top of all the rumors, Coke started a Rumors and Facts page on its website, where it reveals the truth behind common myths. 
  • Beneful — Misinformed animal lovers discovered something horrible (but untrue) in 2007 and 2013: Dogs who ate Purina’s Beneful dog food dropped dead! Beneful knew this wasn’t true, so the company had vets run tests on dogs who’d ingested the food and then released the results of the tests to the public.
There’s no doubt that social media rumors can be harmful to your company, but with a little research and a lot of finesse, you can get through it.

What other tips do you have for dealing with social media running amok?