There are no playbooks for communications, policy and agency teams faced with social media crises and unseen digital forces.
Jonathan Morgan, founder and CEO of Yonder and Annie Klomhaus, the AI software company's COO, explained how to stay resilient against online attacks at PRDecoded's Protecting Your Brand from Viral Stories in the Age of Misinformation session.
"As brands increasingly take strong positions on social issues, comms and policy teams have to interact online with hyper-passionate, agenda-driven groups," Morgan pointed out. "They must be dealt with as stakeholders in the conversation."
Yonder identifies the most influential groups on issues that matter to brands to move from being reactive in crisis mode, to proactive and focused on risk mitigation.
Klomhaus used real-life examples to illustrate authentic reasons something went viral, such as the narrative parsing through a fringe group to the mainstream, as well as inauthentic reasons, such as using bots.
"Wayfair was linked to human trafficking because their cabinets were given women's names," Klomhaus said. "This is a silly thing most people wouldn't believe, but the story went mainstream and the PR team wasn't able to put that genie back in the bottle."
The Disney movie, Mulan, was an example of an inauthentic reason for a brand boycott to go viral.
"When an actress from the movie sent out a tweet supporting the police in Hong Kong, seemingly out of nowhere, a large boycott of the film arose," Klomhaus recalled. "It turned out a large percentage of the boycott was driven by anti-China Hong Kong protesters and driven by bots."
Morgan added: "Once a group has success using your brand as a platform, nine times out of 10, they will come back and use it again. A brand's best defense is knowing its allies and adversaries, understanding their ideologies, agendas and influences and what they're talking about and where. This kind of intelligence is essential for modern communications."