How does the average person know if an urban legend is true or false?
It has happened to all of us. You get an email from a parent, a friend, the guy who likes to send jokes.
Usually it looks something like the image of the email below which claims Tyson Foods is eliminating the American Labor Day holiday for the Muslim Eid Al-Fitr holiday.
Usually it claims that the company in question did something horrible, unAmerican, and insert your own concerns here.
Usually, these types of claims are only partially true or worse yet, patently false.
What if Your brand gets hijacked by an urban legend?
Usually when I get one of these emails, I head over to Snopes.com, a website that does a pretty good job of getting the details of these rumors right. In this case, the email received above had a warning at the end that they checked it out on Snopes, and they found an article from 2008 corroborated their point of view.
However, the article is from 2008, and as I write this it is 2011. This was about a single Tyson’s plant in Shelbyville, Tenn., that was negotiating with its largely Somali refugee workforce. Within a few days, the union negotiated to keep Labor Day and let workers choose between a birthday and the Eid holiday.
What Can Companies Do About These Rumors?
When I received this email, I contacted Tyson directly to get some idea of how they were handling the rumors, something very few people do as they pass on an email, ReTweet a message on Twitter or pass something along on Facebook.
Tyson’s is hardly alone in being caught up in persistent rumors like these. P&G; underwent something similar with its Swiffer brand, and many others have done the same. You can see the Top 25 Urban Legends of the moment over at Snopes.com.
Step 1: Get Out Your Own Statement
The first step is to put out a statement out your own media room or blog. It helps to have a balanced view out there when people go to search. You can click on the photo above to see how Tyson handled its Labor Day Rumor.
Step 2: Submit Up-to-Date Info About the Rumor
Snopes.com is the go-to source to learn about the veracity of many rumors. Other sites also deal with rumors, including FactCheck.org, which focuses on political rumors, and even debunked this one about Snopes.com.
The site at Snopes,com has a Contact section, as well as sections to submit a rumor and/or a video. According to those that have done this, Snopes doesn’t necessarily respond immediately, so be persistent.
About.com also has a rumor section called About Urban Legends, so be sure to contact them as well.
Step 3: Get Third Parties to Pass on Correct News
Illustration of David and Barbara Mikkelson by Matt Weems, and used by permission of Yahoo.
Most rumors start with a kernel of truth, Snopes founders David and Barbara Mikkelson say in this interview in the New York Times last year.
There are many people (like me) that always take the time to look up rumors and get back to the person who sent it on to us. It seems that if a few reporters and bloggers tell the real story it leaves electronic breadcrubs for others looking who are reticent to just pass things on by like to get to the bottom of a story – lIke this opinion piece by Stephanie Salter in the Edmondsun.com, which takes chain letter writers to task and mentions several brands that were targeted by this practice.
Some people won’t believer the true versions of facts, but these breadcrumbs allow a brand to point to third-party debunking of the rumor and to minimize damage.
Step 4: Contact People Directly
One way to stop rumors is to respond to emails that are incorrect with up-to-date information. Also, if it is a blog post, to leave a comment as a brand representative with the correct info and a link back to a statement, like the one Tyson Foods has on its site. At that site I might also add a link to Snopes and other third-party and credible information.
Has your brand over faced a rumor like this? What would you recommend that other brands do when they find themselves in a persistent and untrue email chain letter, Facebook campaign or Twitter scalding?