When Viral Attacks: An ALS Assoc. Story
Brand reputation matters. While there are plenty of success stories in this world of fragmented media, there are also plenty of horror stories. The ALS Association learned this all too well during the long Labor Day weekend. Fundraisers and marketers have options for protecting their reputations and three of those tips are detailed below.
As for the ALS Association's horror story, it began on Aug. 28 with PoliticalEars.com's screaming headline, "ICE BUCKET FRAUD: ALS FOUNDATION ADMITS THAT 73% OF DONATIONS ARE NOT USED FOR ALS RESEARCH."
The association heard from #IceBucketChallenge donors right away. By Aug. 30, the association posted a detailed rebuttal on its website, "The ALS Association Debunks Fake News Article that Went Viral." Nearly 80 percent of donations fund programs and services, the association assures readers.
"The ALS Association has received numerous phone calls from concerned people asking about information in the article even though it was recently debunked on Snopes.com," reads the Aug. 30 press release.
Even so, the association suggested anyone with concerns read the FAQ or email email@example.com. On Monday, @alsassociation tweeted a link to the press release and on Tuesday, this tweet appears: "#TipTuesday—Please read and RT these FAQs about the #IceBucketChallenge and us. http://g3t.ca/C2xfEO"
So marketers could spend time trying to educate the public about satirical sites that are less obvious about their humor than the Onion ("Horrified Subway Execs Assumed People Were Buying Footlongs to Share With a Friend") or they could realize it's up to them to direct market their reputations.
Speaking of healthy skepticism, readers of the viral article who called the association may not have noticed this clue within the article: "CLICK HERE IF YOU'VE ALREADY COMPLETED THE ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE" leads to an opportunity to purchase bacon ketchup from I Am a Texan. As for another clue, the PoliticalEars.com article cites the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability as a source, and "ECFA provides accreditation to leading Christian nonprofit organizations."
"We did not contribute to the article that you reference," writes Michael Martin, ECFA's director of member services and legal counsel. Martin's response is to Target Marketing's request for comment about the PoliticalEars.com piece.
As for how to direct market a reputation, McKinsey suggests:
1 Action, Not Spin, Builds Reputation. "Even as reputational challenges boost the importance of good PR, companies will struggle if they rely on PR alone with little insight into the root causes of or the facts behind their reputational problems," according to McKinsey.
2. Create an Integrated Response and, Within It, Include an Early Warning System for Executives. The CEO should lead, with everyone from regulatory affairs to marketing and the general counsel to investor relations included in the response.
3. Be Proactive. "Such actions need not take place only in response to reputational concerns; at other times, they help build good will that may provide some degree of cover against future bad news," according to McKinsey.
What options do marketers have when misinformation about them goes viral?
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