Skilled Nursing: 4 Tips for Dealing with Fake News

Pardon me. I’m late to the fake news freak out. Why? Because the reality here is “Fake News,” “Zombie News” and the like are so common in the skilled nursing industry that when one of these ‘stories’ takes off like wildfire it feels more like any other workday than something particularly unique.

I get it. Fake news is a tricky beast to battle. When you’ve spent months – or years – building up your reputation, it’s revolting to see it take critical hits thanks to a few online opportunists using your name as click bait. In many cases these fake news stories take real quotes out of context, sensationalize real events or worse – completely fabricate information. At Trifecta Public Strategies – we’re realists when it comes to dealing with fake news. We’ve dealt with it for years and we don’t get too excited when it lands in our inbox. So, with that in mind – here are four battle-tested tips skilled nursing organizations need to keep in mind when dealing with fake news:

The best defense is a good offense. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again – NOW IS THE TIME to invest in relationships. Get to know the Chief of Police. Get to know your City Council members. Take reporters out to lunch and teach them about the some of the nuances of the industry. Engage with family members when they come to visit residents. When people know your organization and the good work you do – they are MUCH more likely not only to disbelieve false information, but also to stand up for you. These are the people who will help to ensure that an outlandish fake news headline like, “Local Nursing Home Chain Hires Rapists,” isn’t given validity. But building relationships takes time. Here’s a free little tip – use the holiday season to your advantage. Make a list of five community leaders you’d like to get to know and bring them a small gift on behalf of your organization – a poinsettia, a small box of chocolates. Invite them to stop by for coffee in the New Year. Start today! 

Monitor for Signs of Infection. Fake news is nothing new. Remember The Weekly World News tabloids from the 1980s – complete with updates on Batboy and details about which Waffle Houses that Elvis liked to frequent? But looking side by side at The Weekly World News and say, The New York Times, it was easy to tell which was a real newspaper and which was a fake. Online news isn’t as easy. For instance, it’s hard for most consumers to tell the difference between the real Denver Post and the fake news site Denver Guardian. And once fake content is posted, it can be shared and given legitimacy via social media. And from there it can spread around the world like head lice at an elementary school. So be like a good school nurse – watch for signs of infection. Monitor social networks, review sites and the broader digital universe for any mentions of your organization. Monitor conversations that are happening about other skilled nursing facilities – fake news and negative online reviews often follow noticeable trends. All of that to say – truly effective listening isn’t easy and it isn’t cheap. While there are free services – like Google News Alerts – that can notify you of online chatter via e-mail – these alerts aren’t always timely and they also lack the discernment human analysis can provide in determining what information requires action and conversely, what doesn’t.

Don’t be afraid to name and shame. Much of the power fake news sites wield comes in part from their relative anonymity. What most people don’t know is that the founders of these fake news sites range from formerly unemployed restaurant workers to Macedonian teenagers. In fact, we once worked with a facility that was ‘anonymously’ attacked by an activist organization that – after some web sleuthing – we discovered was fronted by the wife of an activist attorney. Once we knew who was behind the misinformation, it was an easy next step to turn the information over to our legal team who quickly issued a terse message demanding the misinformation campaign stop. Don’t be afraid to put a face on the source of fake news, and don’t be afraid to ask for your legal team’s help.

Aggressively Tell the Truth. Here’s one thing I know for certain– you have fantastic stories to tell about the great work done at each of your facilities. There are heartwarming stories about the friendships formed between your residents and your employees; there are incredible stories of the ways you use innovation to improve quality; there are stories of community leaders who select your organization to care for their loved ones. Tell those true stories! And if you find that you’re targeted by fake news – don’t be afraid to correct information! In today’s 24/7/365 online environment, ignoring lies often isn’t an option. Correct blatant lies that are posted on social sites. Have documentation ready to reference in case a reporter calls to follow-up on a claim made on a fake news site.

Winston Churchill once said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” Now is the time to make a plan. In 2017, make sure you know where your pants are before a surprise from fake news sites disrupts your operations.

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