Public Relations Can Play Key Role in Building Trust During Age of ‘Fake News’

January 29, 2018

The turbulent climate of the past few years has shaken the foundations of legitimacy of many of our institutions. This erosion of trust poses challenges for professional communicators as ever-more divided audiences desert traditional media channels tainted by accusations of “fake news.”

In a list of predictions for 2018, Worldcom Public Relations Group advises that this crisis of confidence isn’t confined to the mainstream news media. Big business, Hollywood, and government also face new challenges as skeptical audiences increasingly self-select information channels that confirm their own preconceived notions.

“The breakdown in trust in traditional media will see a rise in alternative sources of information,” Worldcom PR says. “This will create many new challenges for organizations. This fragmentation in media will create a new range of relationships to be developed. It will also mean brands will need to assess the quality and accuracy of information provided by these new media outlets and channels and decide if it is valuable to be associated with them.”

Social media – where 62 percent of adults get their news, according to Pew Research – has helped shape this new landscape by curating news feeds based on user engagement including “likes.” This illustrates the difficulty of crafting a message that can reach a maximum audience. But while efforts to communicate on social media might reach only one slice of an audience, it can be a highly engaged and loyal slice!

That’s where public relations pros can really deliver value for their clients. Ogilvy released a study in 2017 that surveyed this landscape, and here’s what they found:

“The fragmentation of media has dramatically multiplied how consumers get their news, posing both a challenge and an opportunity for brands to tell their stories,” said Jennifer Risi, worldwide chief communications officer at Ogilvy, in a news release. “If brands want to compete in a fake-news environment, they must communicate and build trust with consumers, leveraging the trifecta of traditional, digital and social media platforms to tell their stories in a way that is authentic and true to their brand.”

By developing innovative methods to get their messages directly to the audiences who matter, PR communicators can help their clients navigate the information minefield. Some examples:

  • Maintain robust social media channels that don’t simply convey a sales pitch but foster a deeper conversation about the brand and its unique story. Increased user interaction will promote exposure of brand messaging among users’ social networks.
  • Invite consumers to be your brand advocates. Why pay “influencers” to promote your brand when you can leverage the experiences of real customers who already know and trust the brand? In return, a brand can gain insights that can bring it closer to understanding the needs of its best customers.
  • Produce a video instead of a traditional written press release. The organic power of video allows a brand to bypass the media gatekeeper and build trust through sharing among trusted networks.
  • Share your brand’s origin story. Don’t sell just a product or service, but also sell the people and the idea behind the brand. If it’s a barbecue restaurant like Corky’s, let the employees who have worked there for 25 years talk the family atmosphere at their workplace. If it’s a medical device manufacturer like Medtronic, let your R&D director talk about how his team used the idea of a heart catheter to develop the Balloon Kyphoplasty procedure to repair spinal fractures.

Building trust where it matters is how brands can fight through “fake news” and deliver real results.


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