Even the Pope is Worried About Fake News


christina-bertinelliBy Christina Bertinelli, Senior Partner at Lumentus, a strategic communications firm with a specialization in digital reputation management.

The Pope himself fell victim to a fake news story, which falsely reported his endorsement of Donald Trump. The Pontiff came out this month saying the media’s obsession with scandal was akin to “coprophilia”, an abnormal interest in excrement.

In that same interview, he said that people could not be expected to make “a serious judgment” about any situation if the media provided “only a part of the truth, and not the rest.” The issue of balance has been at the heart of the debate about changes in the way people consume information today.

Should you worry about fake news? How about if a fake news blast was pointed in your direction? What if it could affect your business? This is probably something the owners of Washington, D.C., pizzeria Comet Ping Pong never thought they would confront. But is your firm or large corporation next?

The pizza restaurant continues to reel since the fake story broke: that members of the Democratic National Committee had abused children at the pizzeria as part of Satanic rituals. The story gained traction a few days before the presidential election and, before the business could react or understand what was happening, it was receiving threatening messages on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

This story even led to a gunman entering the restaurant claiming to “self investigate.” While this was an extreme example of how powerful fake news has become and how it can affect a small business, it is important to do everything possible to project and build a digital fortress for your business – particularly a larger corporation, association or organization.

Although the #PizzaGate story is much more severe – and unexpected — than most businesses would have outlined in their crisis communications plans, it certainly highlights why those plans probably need updating and new protocols adopted. While you may have designated spokespeople and even have “dark” websites and other contingency materials and procedures in place, you now must ensure that you carefully and professionally monitor and manage your “digital namespace.”

The key to managing your online digital presence is to identify your best credentials and build digital assets specifically optimized to appear at the top of search listings. Here’s a shortlist of some simple and immediate actions that can help protect one of your most valuable assets, your name, and your most valued attribute, your reputation:

  • Own your URL and have it optimized for your business and key stakeholders.
  • Claim all of your social media “handles;” even if you don’t have any intention of using them, don’t open the door for someone else. This would also allow you to shut down the ability to comment if something were to go viral.
  • Monitor your search results through a weekly incognito search of your business name.
  • Continually feed your website, industry and stakeholder “content machines”, and be active and relevant to your audiences.
  • Most importantly, build a digital communications plan and update it on at least a quarterly basis.

Perception is reality, and the good news is that executives and firms can directly influence the impression generated in search results, as well as the culture reflected by the firm’s website and other online content. Basic common-sense approaches to building and maintaining a strong online profile can mean the difference between a bump in the road from an executive departure or litigation, and a full-blown crisis.

  • Managing an online reputation doesn’t mean any consulting firm can remove negative headlines from the news or from search results. No firm or executive is perfect, and issues may arise, but a story from five years ago should not be the first headline someone reads. Dynamically managing digital reputations means those potentially damaging stories no longer define a firm or its executives.

Digital, or online, reputation management is both a science and an art. It’s vital that you or your agency partner understand your business objectives and how managing the digital footprint of your business can assist with achieving those goals, projecting your image and ensuring you have at least a basic reputation “insurance policy” in place.

We have seen the good, the bad and the ugly during our years in the strategic communications business and focus on digital reputation management. The recent epidemic of “fake news” has stunned even us, but our remedies remain valid, our approaches are still effective and now we have both raised and lowered the bar for determining threats.

If you need advice on managing and optimizing your digital reputation, please feel free to reach us at contact@lumentus.com.

 About the Author: A senior partner at Lumentus, Christina has shaped and supervised marketing and communication projects for more than 18 years with a focus on creative excellence, brand strategy, client satisfaction and fiscal responsibility. Christina runs the Digital Reputation Management practice for Lumentus and oversees the team of content specialists and technology and search experts.



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