How Attorneys Can Help Clients Avoid The “Fake News”​ Trap On Social Media

There is a famous saying that came out of Chicago’s City News Bureau: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” The idea here being that you should always confirm your facts, even when it seems obvious. Unfortunately, not everyone follows that advice.

According to a report by the Harvard Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession, “In the last two decades, crisis management has emerged as a distinct practice area for many major law firms.” It’s amazing how quickly a pseudo news item in a social media post can become a major headache for any law firm or its clients, regardless of whether there is any truth to the matter.

What is interesting, and confirms what public relations professionals are often saying, is that social media plays a huge role in how people get their news. Many of those featured in the story never watch news on TV or read a newspaper, so they have to be careful about believing stories that are shared on Facebook and on their phones.

For attorneys, checking out a source is not just about being a responsible researcher or about discerning what real news is. This concept is also true about how you present yourself and what sort of news is being spread about your business or clients. 

How to Approach Untruths that Can be Reputation Killers on Social Media

Lawyers will often hire TC Public Relations when a crisis has emerged. This may be because a client is dealing with accusations of financial embezzlement, sexual impropriety, or physical harm. Now the attorney’s client is faced with not only a potential legal liability, but also having their reputation trashed on social media. 

From Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, stories can grow and attract attention from local newspapers and reporters. As already mentioned, it’s hard for most people to discern truth from slander, so even baseless mudslinging can be damaging to organizations. 

Here are tips you can use, as an attorney, to navigate difficult situations and prevent them from escalating.

1. Don’t Engage

This may seem counterintuitive, but in the early stages of a critical event or social media explosion, it is best that the client does not engage with conversations online. Why would a lawyer say this to their client? Because unthought out, nonstrategic responses can create a potential liability that could be used against them and you down the road. 

Anything said can be used on social media, by the press, and in legal proceedings. Also, from a public relations standpoint, even the acknowledgement of a circumstance can impacts you negatively. At this point, not possessing all the facts and without having developed a crisis strategy, any public communication could fuel the fire on the other side. 

2. Reputation-Building Promotion

Once a public relations crisis strategy has been put in place, next look at all digital marketing and review sites that represent your client’s organization or personal brand. Now, focus on counter communication that indirectly addresses any negative comments. 

As an example, if your client is being accused of sexual harassment, talk about how they’ve been awarded as being one of the safest workplaces in the country. For organizations, consider where this information can be posted on websites, Facebook banners, social media posts, or blog articles. 

When redirecting the conversation towards the positive, you’ll actually be creating a reputation-building promotion of your client. This keeps them out of any defamation activities and helps you better control your image and message before legal proceedings get too far along.

3. Ongoing Tracking

Next, encourage your client to keep track of negative information being shared online. This is especially important if it appears to be more credible with names or dates and gives specific claims that include details such as who, what, or where. 

While you might have minimal opportunity to engage on social media on the topic, the media could be tipped off if the situation draws attention. You’ll want to prepare your organization with a proper response based on the communication that is taking place digitally. 

This is a specific situation where TC Public Relations is able to develop statements for publicly addressing criticism. We’ve seen many cases where credible journalists entered into a social media situation and decided to write news articles based on online chatter. When this happens, you and your client need to be prepared with a strategy on how to best position yourself. 

Social Media Response Strategy: Where to Start

If there is a spark on social media, it may blow up in public media. What does TC Public Relations do in these types of crisis communication situations? We anticipate the hardest questions. 

We create a communications grid that contains a list of stakeholders (e.g.: employees, the media). Then we conceive the worst possible scenarios and determine the best way to address each of those stakeholders, creating an initial best possible response until we gather all the facts, review the “big picture,” and direct efforts toward achieving the most desirable outcome.