How to overcome the fake news agenda to communicate with your audience
Although you’d be forgiven for thinking that everyone was au fait with fake news by now, its perils persist. The problem seems to exist predominantly amongst the over 65s, with upwards of 11% sharing fake stories to Facebook, according to a report by the BBC. In comparison, only 3% of 18-29 year olds shared links of this kind.
For the first time, Facebook has appointed a UK fact checking organisation, Full Fact, to verify information on its platform. Whilst this is certainly a positive change, the distrust of social networks – partially due to their proliferation of fake news – is still high, with real potential for companies who craft their communications to be tarred with the same brush as dodgy outlets.
Indeed, with an electric storm of information that may or may not be trustworthy facing audiences every day, it’s surely easier to switch off altogether and adopt a blanket ‘trust no one’ policy, rather than engage with a particular company’s messaging.
Although fake news may lead to widespread mistrust, there are certain measures you can take to make sure your company’s communications don’t get caught in the backlash.
Who are you talking to?
When you’re approaching media with your latest news update, interview opportunity or topical statement, are you assessing their credibility?
Look out for reputable outlets that will give your communications more validity. Focus your energy on getting your messages into quality publications rather than a vast quantity of sub-par ones.
When assessing for credibility, consider whether other stories run by the outlet are of a high quality. Do they cite statistics that seem synthetic? Do they feature ‘facts’ that feel like they’re fabricated? If an outlet’s content raises alarm bells for you, then it probably will for many readers too.
Seek out authentic and believable publications, or risk aligning yourself with suspect ones.
Spare us the claptrap
Our tolerance for BS is ever-dwindling, thanks to increased awareness of nasty fake news initiatives.No one wants to win the idiot award for sharing the obviously fictitious article or the eyebrow-raising alternative fact.
So, don’t alienate your audience with your communications by being a part of the problem. Give arguments that hold water, offer well-reasoned opinions, provide properly researched statistics – cut the nonsense and respect your readers’ intelligence.
Get your facts straight
Have you ever seen that scene in ‘The Blob’ where waves upon waves of people are screaming and running out of a movie theatre away from the giant fatberg-looking creature?
That’s actually an accurate depiction of journalists when they sense your communications contain inaccuracies (in this example, that would make you The Blob).
Journalists, like companies, need to be extra careful to keep their stories factual to maintain their reputation in this era of fake news, and so if you’re offering them something that could potentially jeopardise that, they won’t go near you.
When citing statistics, check your sources. Are they credible? Have they been skewed to suit an agenda? We recommend getting all of your communications proofed two or three times by separate checkers, so that there is no chance of a rogue tadpole of misinformation slipping through the net.
Seek out fake news
You’ve done your part not to contribute to the fake news cycle, but what can you do when the fake news tornado comes your way?
Fake news is frequently shared about companies and individuals – see Starbucks and Wetherspoons as examples. Ensure that you are constantly monitoring for coverage related to you and your industry so that you can stay ahead of the fake news agenda should a dodgy rumour make the rounds about you.
Although there’s no way to be fully protected against a fake news storm (how can you predict what crazy story someone is going to make up about you?), there are ways to prepare for one in advance. Make sure you are up to date with your company’s activity, and ensure that all communications go through one channel, so that you know what’s come from you, and what’s made up.
Don’t let fake news impact how your audience perceives you – make your communications credible, accurate and authentic, and keep your ears to the ground for ‘news’ that might negatively impact your brand.