January 23, 2019

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Is Online Rumor-Management Possible for Hollywood?

Is Online Rumor-Management Possible for Hollywood?

Reputation management has always been a tricky undertaking, and one that the Internet permanently altered. As a result, every industry concerned with its online reputation (as every industry should be) must learn how to deal with Internet speculation. The Internet is a hotbed of rumor and innuendo, and learning how to engage appropriately to clear up untruths about your business will only become more important as the Web continues to flourish as a news source.
There are few industries as prone to rumors as the movie business. The tech industry is up there, with its constant reports on what Apple is about to release and who Google is about to buy (and there are a lot of those rumors). But who outside the tech and business sectors follows those reports with much intensity? Hollywood gossip, on the other hand, is a booming business with widespread appeal, and the Web has taken charge as the leading rumor mill.
Sites dedicated to the movie business aren’t solely trading in the latest celebrity gossip, however. There are dozens devoted to the actual business behind the fame. While sites like [Ain’t It Cool](http://aintitcool.com) and others broke new ground when it came to passing along spy reports, insider tidbits, and more in the early days of the Web, there are now a host of sites that all are devoted to movie industry news. Breathless breaking news items are posted on how X studio has mucked with Y franchise, whose casting in which role will surely lead to the downfall of the movie, and which director will helm which adaptation of a popular kids’ toy line.
The problem with most of these items – which start on one blog and then make their way around to a dozen others within hours – is that they often aren’t true. But holding a hot news tip until it can be independently verified could potentially mean not being the first person to mention it, thus sacrificing both the “insider” status of the writer and the ad revenue that comes with it.
It is in this sometimes-vicious environment that studios must operate, where movies are picked apart based on leaked scripts (which sometimes turn out to be fakes), casting rumors, and other information of questionable provenance and authenticity. So how can studios best navigate these treacherous waters?
The best way to kill a rumor is with the truth, or at least with a clarification that speculation is not the same as fact. Hasbro did just that last month, issuing a statement clearing up some misconceptions about the forthcoming big-screen adaptation of the “G.I. Joe” toy and cartoon franchise. To deal with rumors surrounding the details of the movie, the company released some simple facts about the plot that refuted the untruths.
That wasn’t so hard, was it?
Compare that to the silence from Warner Bros. concerning the adaptation of DC Comics’ “Justice League.” The film suffers from rumor-fatigue (all the heroes will be teenagers, the movie is going to be CGI/motion-capture, the movie has been re-branded “American Heroes,” etc.), but Warner hasn’t stepped in to quash these reports, most of which seem to originate from third-tier staffers making claims backed up with flimsy evidence.
This example is specific, but the problem is universal to the business of managing your brand online: if you do nothing, the problem will only get bigger. It is not just that false information may elicit negative reaction from your target audience. There is also the danger that one of these reports will resonate with your public, who will then feel misled and let down when the end result is not what they anticipated from the Web speculation.
It’s not likely that movie bloggers – or bloggers covering any industry – are going to exercise more caution when it comes to printing rumors and spy reports. Such things drive traffic, and traffic drives ad dollars into bloggers’ pockets.
Studios need to open the lines of communication with the public directly, or at least find a few trusted and influential needles in the online haystack that they can use to combat misinformation. That’s not to say bloggers need to become corporate shills or that studios should view them as such. A mutually beneficial relationship, however, may be possible. While most bloggers may never have (or want) the types of relationships with Hollywood publicists that mainstream entertainment news outlets enjoy, a little mutual back scratching may pave the way for less sketchy reports and more facts.
*Chris Thilk is a Chicago-based new media PR specialist and writer of MovieMarketingMadness.com*

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