Crash Course in: Managing rumours

Has the rumour mill gone into overdrive in your office? Here's how to power it down...

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Get your radar in place. Use social media monitoring tools to find out what people are saying about you online and respond quickly. But be aware of what's being said offline too. 'Your own staff can be one of the best early warning systems of rumours,' says Amanda Pierce, chair of the corporate and crisis practice at Burson-Marsteller.

Fill the vacuum. 'Look at why rumours start,' says Pierce. 'Usually it's because there is a gap in the information available which is filled by guesswork and speculation.' A good website with clear, honest information can stop rumours before they start.

Find the source. Ask whoever passed on the rumour where he or she got it from. Even online, anonymity is not guaranteed. 'There are ways of tracking down anonymous contributions, for example, through their IP address,' says Ashley Hurst, a senior associate with lawyers Olswang. 'People often leave traces, even when they think they have been clever.'

Consider legal steps. If the rumour was published online, apply for a disclosure order against the site to find out who posted it. You can also take action for defamation. 'If somebody retweets something defamatory, that person is liable for defamation in the same way as the original author of the tweet,' says Hurst.

Deny with conviction. Denying an untrue rumour is the most obvious step, but there is a risk of drawing attention to it and nurturing the 'no smoke without fire' syndrome. 'In order to be credible, a mere denial is often not sufficient,' says Hurst. 'It should be backed up with information about the true position, for example, on the company website.'

Accentuate the positive. Denial isn't the only effective way to respond. 'Reassociating the rumour with positive information can be one way to turn a bad thing into a good thing,' says Derek Rucker, associate professor of marketing at Kellogg School of Management. If the rumour says you're pulling out of the retail market but you can show all your growth is coming from dealers, it wouldn't matter even if it were true.

Use the credibility test. The most effective strategy, Kellogg found, is to get consumers to think about whether a rumour is credible. 'Get consumers to ask themselves the simple question, can they be confident in the rumour as truth, based on where they heard it,' says Rucker. 'In the case of a rumour that is clearly false and based on uncertainty, they will be likely to figure this out for themselves and thereby reduce the impact of the rumour on behaviour.'

Call on friends. 'Two key groups for tackling rumours are often neglected in management planning - third-party advocates and staff,' says Pierce. 'You need to nurture relationships with independent advocates well in advance, but their word - and that of employees - can be seen as more reliable than head office.'

Do say: 'Here are the facts. Please read them and make up your own mind.'

Don't say: 'No comment.'

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