It’s been a month since a historic US presidential election that pitted a business billionaire that previously never ran for public office versus a 30-year public servant that was the first female nominee of a major political party. As the state-by-state results rolled in late into the evening and descended into the wee hours of the morning, most major media outlets begrudgingly declared the winner. Like a hanging chad blowing in the wind, each outlet’s entourage of political pundits was bewildered and began questioning, “How did the polls get it sooo wrong?” To a much lesser and refreshing extent, admissions of honesty were expressed that ranged from, “We blew it,” to “Let’s see if the boss renews my contract.”
Many hypotheses were and continue to be offered as to the “surprising results.” Several invoked the fragile reliability of casino betting odds (no joking!), whereas most revolved around the media and “fake news,” as reported by The New York Times. On this last prognostication, claims flourished that fake news posted on Facebook (and spread to other social media channels) potentially influenced the election results. Given that well over 50% of those eligible to vote in the US obtain all or part of their news via social media, such claims are disturbing at a minimum when you consider that anyone can write “news” and post it for virtually anyone that chooses to read---and believe---it.
Make no mistake about it, fake news occurs at your company too. Although to a much smaller extent than a presidential election, the impact that fake news has on a company’s reputation, employee confidence, customer trust and bottom line can be substantial.
To combat erroneous information, incorrect assumptions, and the lack of business integrity and ethics you may experience by some competitors or former, disgruntled employees, it takes a village of internal and external communications.
Internal communications via email is the predominate method used by HR and corporate management to inform team members as to changes in corporate capabilities and organizational structure. It’s also used more selectively on new product and service introductions. However, the over use of email has somewhat diluted the impact and perceived importance for many recipients, even when sent by senior management. Therefore, town hall meetings followed by department discussions are highly advised, as there is still no substitute to “look them in the eyes,’ whenever possible. And, if getting those warm bodies in the same room is not feasible, it’s more of a reason to employ webinars, Skype or other live video alternatives. For many large companies, the easel pads and bulletin boards are being replaced with digital displays placed throughout common areas of their campuses, thereby enabling their communications to be largely unobstructed from cloistered cubicle chatter and other non-productive distractions.
For those companies with employee intranets podcasts and video clips, along with transcripts or consolidated notes summarizing the meeting presentations should be posted as a reference. This is especially important when reviewed by employees with different first languages.
In terms of external communications, the lightning fast speed that news is disseminated in our digital era necessitates companies to deploy a wide net of tactics to successfully refute false news. Should it be a combination of social media (yes!), targeted enewsletters (yes!), and other methods (yes!), your company should have an integrated plan in place as part of its standard operating procedures to respond to rumors, ridiculous claims, and unsubstantiated information. The plan should entail the use of the company’s existing communications platforms. If your company has been communicating on a regular basis, rebuttals to false news being made by enemy combatants will be weighed more thoughtfully as your company has earned a level of credibility and trust.
Centric to social media, strategically increasing and cultivating connections on LinkedIn (yes!) and followers on other selected channels are critical to ensuring your communications are “heard” and shared. Connections that are truly engaged in your business are more likely to be more responsive to your comments. In essence, they become a communications network that will spread your gospel. Conversely, these folks are more likely to be more circumspect of questionable statements being made about your organization. Caution: Beware of “fake followers”. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Most importantly, it is senior management’s responsibility to provide an open environment to effectively foster and lead discussions on topics that address current and future concerns. The worst mistake is not communicating at all, whereas the organization will most often find itself responding in a defensive mode. Not communicating regularly will cast a company as being insular and yes, fake.