At least once a week, if not once every day, we read about new claims for or against one food or another. Whether it’s GMOs, animal rights, pesticides, additives, sustainability, this or that diet, or one healthy/non-healthy ingredient or another, we’re all inundated by the messages.
The onslaught of news stories means food companies need to be constantly aware of what’s being said and keep their own story out there. The sheer amount of stories to review and monitor puts extreme pressure on company employees already balancing many different aspects of business operations.
What’s worse is that the virality of social media and consumers’ propensity to share without verifying a story makes it extremely difficult to keep the “truth” at the top of the news cycle. Research shows that the vast majority of people do not check the facts in a story before sharing a post that resonates with them. News coverage about these studies centers on politics and government, but the trend affects us all.
One step company leadership can take is to encourage and remind employees and customers to verify a story. Every little bit can help when trying to spread the truth.
It Takes Just Minutes to Verify
There are a couple of quick ways to verify the general trustworthy nature of a story or social media post, or at least the source of said story:
Trust your instinct; if it sounds too good/weird/off to be true it probably is
Check Snopes by searching using the headline or key words in the lede
Install the NewsGuard plugin on your computer. It’s a media-based source that rates the trustworthiness of news sources, automatically providing a green, yellow, or red label
Check the Media Bias/Fact Check to learn if a media outlet leans left or right. The site also includes information about the outlet’s reputation for factual or sensational reporting.
As a food company leader whose product or organization is being written about in a way you question, you’ll want to investigate a bit further before responding. Look at funding sources, members of any advisory board, backgrounds of writers, a commitment to journalistic integrity or ethics, and whether the stories all seem to have a similar bias.
Studies about the health and nutrition of food are often good sources for information, but they can also be very misleading. As you’re determining a response, consider who funded the study, how the research/experiments were conducted and even how the results are presented. An industry or advocacy group funded study doesn’t necessarily mean bias, but it can when combined with shortcomings in other areas.
Steps Companies can Take
Aside from hiring us (more on that later) or another communications firm, companies should be constantly monitoring mentions of their company and products in the news. There are plenty of services that can provide this monitoring that go beyond keyword searches and Google Alerts you can set up yourselves. Just a couple:
These companies’ services range from free to thousands of dollars per month so it’s important to understand what you’re getting for the money spent.
Now that you know what’s being said, you need to make sure you’re prepared to respond thoughtfully. We strongly recommend being prepared by having facts, figures and stories developed ahead of time as our experience has shown those are the most successful responses.
In fact, a proactive program telling your story is important so when the unexpected happens you also have an active group of product advocates who can help correct misinformation and spread good news.
Our final piece of big picture advice is to have a crisis plan in place for when the inevitable happens. Having a plan means your response times will be faster and there’s less chance a crisis will affect the business as much overall. Planning saves us all time and heartache when it’s needed.
We Can Help
We’ve spent more than 40 years helping businesses tell stories and proactively meet their business goals. We’ve worked with a wide range of food products as well as businesses and a couple of politicians. Our most successful programs are built on a foundation of listening and collaboration based on trust and respect.