The Wayfair Conspiracy Theory: Why Crisis Communications Planning is Critical in the Era of Misinformation

Over the past few days, an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that Wayfair is trafficking children through listings of highly overpriced furniture with names of children that have gone missing hit the social and news media landscape by storm. While the theory has been debunked by independent fact checking sites, the incident serves as a stark reminder of the importance of having crisis communications in place and monitoring your brand online closely.

Any communications consultant will say that in crisis management, preparation is key. You never want to be taken off-guard. You want to be identifying potential risks and have plans built in advance of potentially brand-damaging issues.

But it’s hard for any company to predict or plan for a wild conspiracy theory, such as the one floating around about Wayfair. But seeing what’s happened here, it’s worth heeding this lesson: If you have a well-recognized brand, you must assume you could be a target by groups who thrive on spreading misinformation, and that rumors spread quickly through social media.

There are two things companies should do to prepare for a scenario like this – even if it’s hard to imagine happening to your organization.

First, have a plan. You won’t have time to think strategically about key actions that must happen when you’re in the heat of the moment. You don’t have to predict the specific accusation, but you need to think through key decisions in advance:

  • Who’s on point internally to investigate claims
  • How information will be shared internally and with whom
  • Trigger points for when to respond with a broad statement, and when to be proactive and engage directly with media
  • Who will serve as the best spokesperson

Second, and equally important – actively monitor your brand online. You need to be managing the situation well before the point where mainstream media is paying attention.

Social media listening would help identify early whispers of issues (wild or not) – before they gain significant traction. This gives the organization time to investigate issues or complaints, no matter how wild they may seem. You also need to balance a desire to immediately refute issues and ensure your response is accurate and defensible. Monitoring and investigations of early warning signs provides time to feel confident in any public response. With online monitoring, organizations can see when the dialogue shifts and gains momentum, which should set off a crisis plan and move people to action.

In summary, don’t be taken off-guard by information spreading about your company and make sure you have a plan and process for managing accordingly. It doesn’t matter if you are an industry titan or a start-up. You need to be prepared for the unexpected.

For more information about V2’s Crisis Communications & Issues Management practice, visit here.