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4 Tips to Surviving a Viral Hoax
Posted on June 27th 2014
A viral story that outraged millions and turned the nation’s collective disapproving gaze directly at KFC was all a hoax - according to KFC.
The KFC in Jackson, Miss., never asked three-year-old Victoria Wilcher to leave its location on May 15 because her facial scars were disturbing – despite the thousands upon thousands of tweets and shares claiming KFC’s heartless actions took place.
Unfortunately for KFC, in the eyes of social media, they are villains.
After all, who would believe KFC over the plight of an adorable child who sadly lost her right eye and sustained facial paralysis after a pit bull attack? Naturally, KFC is in the wrong – even if the incident never happened.
According to the Washington Post, People Magazine, Yahoo News and more, KFC is in the throes of damage control as it investigates the incident.
According to KFC, the incident never happened. Reports allege the little girl’s family initiated the social media hoax, although the family maintains the incident is not a hoax at all. Still, The Laurel Leader-Call in Mississippi is calling the incident a fundraising hoax — specifically, a Kentucky Fried Hoax.
"We have taken this report very seriously from the beginning," KFC spokesman Rick Maynard told Yahoo News. "Since our franchisee was unable to verify the incident in their internal investigation, they hired a third-party consultant to conduct an independent investigation to help resolve the matter. Along with our franchisee, we remain determined to get to the truth and address the situation appropriately."
Still, anytime a multinational food conglomerate picks on a little girl, no one wants to hear anything but an apology from its spokesperson – whether or not the incident really happened, right? If thousands upon thousands of people are tweeting about it, it must be true, right? As KFC works to determine what actually happened, the family is holding to its position that they are standing in the glow of the truth. Despite maintaining its innocence as a third-party investigation (launched by KFC) kicks off, the fast-food restaurant committed $30,000 to help pay the little girl’s medical bills.
Assuming the incident never took place and the social media frenzy over it really was just fuel for a hoax, KFC is the victim. Here are four tips to face a social media hoax with authority, integrity and dignity – even if the world thinks you are in the wrong.
Take Control - Fast: An allegation was waged – an opinion cast. Face it with honesty. Do not immediately rush to dispute. Do rush to acknowledge. Recognize concerns. Control the situation. Take steps to investigate and be ready to share your findings. At all times, portray an honestly and sincerity – demonstrate integrity as you seek out the truth. Leverage social media to reflect your position and share updates. Reach out to appropriate media sources to convey your position, concerns and actions. Issue a press release if necessary – demonstrating your commitment to righting a wrong, or correcting a hoax.
Stand Your Ground: Keeping your integrity intact, stand firm that you understand all concerns and viewpoints. Maintain control of the situation by issuing frequent, appropriate social media updates. Do not engage in direct defense updates or shares. Simply state the facts, as you know them and as they are uncovered. Remember you are not only working to rectify an unfortunate situation, hoax or not, but also to maintain positive online reputation in the process.
Accept Responsibility: If investigations result in the hoax being verified, accept responsibility. If your business, organization or employees are in the wrong, seek out appropriate legal counsel, as well as public relations, media relations, social media and online marketing support to best address the situation in the most professional way possible. Retain humanity in all correspondence. Keep professionalism high. Work with internal teams, human resources, employee communications and internal channels to manage concerns inside and outside your doors. Demonstrate grace and fairness. Keep social media updates to an absolute minimum, sharing what is necessary to demonstrate any regret or accountability – and best practice steps in place to make everything better.
Move On: If investigations result in the hoax being validated as a hoax, move on. Don’t dwell in the role of victim. Issue a clear statement. Share concise social media updates. Do not wage a war to reposition blame. Show mercy. Then, file the experience away and move on to more important tasks.