Establishing Trust in a Fake News Era: Best Practices from Code & Theory and SKDKnickerbocker



Reps from SKDKnickerbocker and Code and Theory joined forces at #SMWNYC to discuss how brands should navigate social media when facing Fake News.


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“Fake news is a term that can be applied in the news category,” said Anita Dunn, Managing Director, SKDKnickerbocker during a #SMWNYC session hosted by Code and Theory President, Michael Treff.

“A challenge for politicians in 2020 will be deciding what’s true. People struggle to find credible news outlets.” Dunn has spent an admirable amount of time working in politics, from interning at President Carter’s re-election to her current role at SKDKnickerboker — a practice more around advocacy and the public dialogue, as opposed to the electoral, allowing her to watch the concept of fake news grow and evolve.

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Treff agreed and was quick to note that brands, including Adidas, feel as if they are under attack by it and don’t know how to respond.

The two also agreed that deciding what issues to get involved in, politically and socially, poses a high-risk assessment. It’s vital for brands to engage with the policies of their assumed consumers and demographics. Focusing on their product alone is ineffective when seeking engagement. However, it is important to remember that when putting their voice out there, brands hold their own authority. Their high visibility prompts them to maintain a respectful demeanor at all times.

Treff notes that “at the end of the day, brands are businesses and they’re trying to advance their agenda for profit.” Consumers have a right to be skeptical and brands taking positions on issues that directly benefit them on the commercial bottom line is always going to be a risky move.

Social Media & CEOs

However, social media has enabled CEOs to exist more at the forefront of their company and speak directly with politicians as well as citizens. Before deciding to put themselves forward though, an ethos and their safety must be decided. “You need consensus from a senior leadership team in what you’re going to engage in and that’s true for politicians as well,” Dunn explained. “CEOs increasingly can’t hide from issues as there’s an expectation they’re going to say something on it from shareholders and employees.”

All major tech companies have traditionally been aligned with the White House. The way in which social platforms are used has become more sophisticated – Republicans see privacy as censorship.

Treff understands that the majority of large tech companies are in some sort of ‘hot water’ and that there is a “survivalist nature instinct” in dealing with controversies and flaws.

Best Practices for a Positive Future

In order to move forward online in an effective, trusting way, a brand must do the following three steps:

  1. Establish your business model. Are you a publisher? Subscription based? How you make money impacts your distribution process.
  2. Respond to issues and queries on your socials as opposed to your own platform as you can react in real time and speed in response is effective in building trust.
  3. Think about the type of content you’re creating and where it’s being delivered. For example, storytelling and investigative journalism don’t have that much impact on social media and typically those types of pieces are perceived as too long in length. Audiences look to social media for short and snappy delivery of content, which can lead to sloppy journalism and bad fact checking if the brand or outlet isn’t careful.

It’s important to remember that whilst fake news is being churned out on social media, there are those online who are able to out inaccuracy immediately by personal experience and direct knowledge. For everything the public is able to hold power accountable for, people on the other side are able to power it too. You just have to be engaged in the conversation, no matter what side you’re on.

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