If ever there was a time when trust in the media has eroded, it is now. “Fake news” is everywhere, and people are more aware than ever that what they’re reading or hearing may not actually be true. According to a September 2016 Gallup poll, Americans’ trust in mass media’s ability to accurately report the news has dropped to its lowest level in history.
So, where does that leave PR, the industry charged with creating positive public image?
According to media expert Sarah Clark, PR is “becoming more effective than it’s ever been. What most people fail to understand is that the internet has opened new ways for organizations to engage with people authentically and directly.”
Has it ever. PR professionals have multiple channels and means through which to establish and maintain brand and reputation: websites, content marketing, social media, search engine optimization (SEO), white papers, case studies, email campaigns, blog posts, slide shows, videos, infographics, interactive marketing, data analysis, and the list goes on.
But we must be oh-so-careful. While there is much room for growth in public relations, there is infinite room for doubt. Social media algorithms allow today’s consumers to self-select which news will best support their views. They can also read hundreds of reviews from real people willing and able to share their opinions. Even the casual browser can smell a spin from a mile away – and perpetuate one just as easily.
In whom can we trust? While that question is daunting, there is a silver lining for PR. What better time is there than now to stand out as ambassadors of truth amidst the clatter and clutter of fake news? The current atmosphere is rife with opportunity. We must take it!
But how? While it may seem easy – just tell the truth – getting people to recognize the truth is a lot more complicated these days. Here are some tips to help your PR shine above the muddy waters of fake news:
- Believe yourself. Let’s start with the seemingly obvious notion that marketers should believe their own messages. If you don’t wholeheartedly have faith, 100 percent in your soul, in what you’re telling others, nor will anyone else. Duh, you say? Consider the case of a popular cell phone’s claim that its next version was twice as fast and half the price, an assertion that even the company knew was inaccurate and, ultimately, landed them in court.
- Micro-target your audience. Complicated algorithms easily allow consumers to self-choose which messages they’re exposed to, creating a climate of “tribal persuasion.” It is more essential than ever to know your audience and speak to them directly and individually, sometimes creating several different messages for different groups. Your marketing team can help you leverage consumer data and demographics to identify like-minded people and create truthful messages that will resonate with them, based on their core values and frames of reference. You’re not “buying in” to their belief systems; you’re tapping in to them to reach and engage them more meaningfully.
- Know your audience, literally. Take every opportunity possible to personally meet and get to know the members of your community and their families. The more you know your current customer base, the more you can predict the needs and wants of clients in the future and how to communicate with them authentically and authoritatively. If possible, task your marketing team with face-to-face meetings, outings and interviews with the residents and staff of your community. These primary sources will add immeasurable credibility to your public relations.
- Don’t perpetuate fake news. Monitor your social media to make sure fake news is not making the rounds on your platforms, and inform your clients or associates of any bogus postings you suspect on theirs. Never allow open commenting on your platforms without administrative clearance, and block troublesome commenters or trolls.
- Check and cross check your facts and sources. Repeat. This is a fundamental principle of PR and journalism (a field which relies increasingly on PR amidst job cuts), but one that has gone woefully by the wayside in the haste to dash out “news” as quick as a click. When primary sources are not available, use reliable fact checking sites for secondary and tertiary stories or sources, or employ your marketing team to do the legwork for you.
Despite the damaging effects of fake news, PR is being consistently reinvigorated with new outlets and technology to communicate your brand and messages with dignity and truth. Your marketing team can help you explore all the possibilities.
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