Updated: Jan 22, 2021
It is no secret that criticism from colleagues, peers or family members can hurt, even if the intentions are pure. Now imagine criticism that is orchestrated with the goal to hurt, harm and possibly destroy someone’s reputation.
Until recently, PR agencies focused upon putting a positive spin to everything. Brands usually hired agencies to support their agenda with the assumption that it would be done within set guidelines. However, a new breed of PR firms are now specializing in engineered smear campaigns with the sole intention of putting a brand in the spotlight for the ‘Wrong reasons. Companies, brands and even political candidates are paying hefty amounts to Dark PR (DPR) firms who then engage in end-to-end manipulation strategies to exploit a rival brand’s reputation.
What is Dark PR?
Quite simply put, DPR firms will ‘intentionally’ and ‘consciously’ spread rumors about their competitors for anyone willing to pay. DPR practitioners will stop at nothing to tear down a rival brand and tend to use multiple tactics from the DPR ‘tool-kit’ which include the following features:
Posting false content
DPR tactics are known to be cloaked in deceit. Using online forums, review websites like Yelp and blogs, DPR firms usually post distorted information about a brand by leaving fake product reviews and complaining about customer service experiences. In terms of credibility, consumers place equal importance on online reviews and personal recommendations. A classic DPR tactic such as publishing negative product reviews can massively impact a brand’s image.
Social media and email manipulation
Digitalization means that people practically live online now. Research published by Fan & Fuel reported that a staggering 86% of people will refrain from doing business with a brand that has negative reviews online. This has a direct impact on the customers’ perception of a brand’s products, services and authenticity. By creating fake social media accounts, sending triggering content from a ‘verified brand email address’, DPR firms are capable of taking down a rival brand through social media alone.
Leaking confidential information
This tactic is an interesting one because it can be maneuvered in two different ways. One, is by violating the data privacy and outright selling of data as a leverage for publicity or stake. The other, is through leaking of classified company data on purpose (usually done by an internal source which could be either a current or former employee). DPR agencies might also leak incriminating information about a fellow brand to journalists, news channels and competitors who are in a position to cause serious harm to the brand’s reputation.
Can DPR destroy your brand?
The short answer to this is, yes. Resorting to DPR, also known as ‘Black PR’ is indeed, a game of thrones! While a brand will benefit from having an effective reputation management strategy and response mechanism, this may not be enough because the damage done can be irreversible.
Dealing with DPR
DPR does not always equal a bloodbath and this is what makes it a force to reckon with. If done right, it can run a brand to the ground with just a handful of cunning strategies.
Is your brand equipped to deal with a DPR attack?
Since there is no single fool-proof strategy to fight DPR tactics, we’ve listed three best practices to help your brand effectively deal with a situation that seems to be straight out of The Thanos Handbook.
Keep your emotions out of it
Effective branding is all about making human connections. But when faced with DPR, it is imperative for brands to stay calm and focus on crisis management. While it isn’t easy to refrain from reacting to fake news, an emotional outburst will only make the situation worse.
State the facts
People appreciate honesty and transparency at all levels. Once you have gathered enough information, publicly refute any claims made against the brand and present factual data to back it up. If the brand is at fault, owning up to it might just do the trick.
Execute an effective communication plan
Educating internal employees about all parts of the brand’s communication management plan is essential to maintain transparency and consistency across all platforms. Consistently publishing quality (read original) content and keeping a trained eye on the brand, will prove to be a great part of the plan.
At the end of the day, all brands play a fair game, supposedly. Players will not go easy on a brand simply because it is a start-up. In the digital landscape, it is nauseatingly easy to post implicating information, start malicious rumors and plant fake evidences. All it takes is a bug in the system (digital and metaphorically alike).