PR must remain firm in the era of Post-Truth

It’s no April Fool’s joke, digital platforms spread conspiracy theories six times faster than accurate news. We may only be a quarter the way through the year but misinformation in the media landscape is still very much alive and well. But are you surprised?

A new Cision report, aptly titled PR in the Age of Misinformation, sheds further light on this developing issue.

We’ve rebranded our ThrowBack Fridays to a more aptly named You Heard It Here First, as our blogs are designed to provide updates on the role PR pros should play in the dissemination of news and views. This latest Cision report is indeed a timely reminder that as PR pros, we must hold our ground in what’s now called by many “the era of Post-Truth” and so, we refresh our last blog on how PR pros can stop the spread of disinformation to build and maintain brand trust.

Here’s our key takeaways from the report:

  1. Proactively invest in brand equity (we’re firm believers in this – see our recent blog): An ‘always on’ communication strategy goes a long way in demonstrating authenticity and transparency to your customers. Don’t wait to react to the next PR crisis, instead ensure a steady stream of effective brand storytelling through press releases, bylined articles, and social media campaigns – and don’t forget to use both owned and earned media channels to get the word out!
  2. A credible SME voices goes a long way – facts must come from somewhere – make sure your SME are treated as primary sources of facts, not purveyors of opinions: Putting weight behind a recognized subject matter expert can cut through the noise of misinformation and help build brand resilience. It’s still true that “people buy from people” so a well-thought-out executive profiling strategy can help proactive customers better relate to, and trust, a business (something that GenAI will never be able to replicate as it only seems capable of regurgitating info).
  3. Keep your Social Listening ears pinned to the ground: Tapping into conversations across the media can give PR teams an insight into upcoming trends and gaps in how customers perceive a brand. Social listening can be a crucial strategy to communicate crisis messaging and reframe the narrative
  4. Don’t be the misinformed source! Even the most well-intentioned brands can put their foot in it! Crossed wires could lead to a misworded (or mistimed) social post or comment that hits the wrong note with your target audience. Accountability should be a company’s strength. Own the mistake and act as quickly as possible to diffuse the situation and whatever you do, avoid falling down the rabbit hole of ambulance chasing and don’t even think about touching an AI-generated script!

PR teams know they must play a key role in combatting misinformation and establishing their clients as truth ambassadors. Allowing misinformation to spread unchecked can have a major hit on reputation damage, impacting customer trust and the bottom line.

Georgia Harris began her blog last year with this flashback: From the 1985 Life on the Moon to September 2023 outbreaks of Ebola in Nevada, the power of fake news masquerading as “compelling content” is not a new phenomenon. It’s worth adding the fake facts and pictures around the Baltimore Bridge collapse to this! Read on for the rest of Georgia’s blog:

If you follow our IBA blog, you will understand that powerful content can bring real value to your brand. Whether it be research-led content, telling creative stories, or even localizing your content, the brand benefits of maximizing thought leadership and materials will be worth the graft. 

But as with most PR and marketing techniques, it swings both ways. Get the content wrong, and it can be damaging for brand reputation, repeat business, or client relationships. And now, in the era of social media where we have a diverse mix of social platforms, both B2B and B2C brands are more vulnerable than ever.

From increased risk when it comes to fake news, reputational harm from a misleading or inaccurate marketing campaign, or perhaps a brand has said the wrong thing and backed it with some poorly researched stats – the B2B landscape is not always smooth sailing, but there’s certainly some tips, tricks, and tools to make the journey a bit less turbulent.

Beware of social media: the home of cancel culture

In the social media landscape “news travels fast!” so make sure it’s for the right reasons! Too often, businesses find themselves needing to steer the narrative to avoid falling victim to “cancel culture” after some poorly curated content – just ask Bud Light and Adidas when they got involved in controversy with the transgender community. Get the messaging wrong, and there can be some downfalls as any slip-up on the comment of consumer trends can knock your brand off the top spot, and make climbing back pretty difficult.

Fact checking should not be an art form

In an IBA blog written back in 2020, we highlighted that “Whatever your B2B social media marketing goals – connecting with influencers, driving traffic or grabbing some brand awareness – you need to make sure you are sharing the right kind of content.”

It’s all about getting your social media marketing on point from the Get-go.

It goes without saying that the message still carries its weight three years on, but a message without credible third-party facts and sources won’t suffice. In the digital age where anyone can post articles online, seeking reliable and authoritative sources for thought leadership content is non-negotiable. We beg, fact check your information! And that means going back to primary sources, not someone else’s opinion.

If you’re still curious on how to build a successful social media campaign, why not visit our social media marketing “lessons learned” blog and see our top-tips for being an authentic, credible, and “on-brand” business? Or get in touch with the IBA team today!

Social is the breeding ground for fake news

The clickbait technique lives off the premise that humans spread lies, more than they do the truth – in fact, research has found that humans (not bots) are primarily responsible for spreading misinformation – with fake news 70% more likely to be retweeted than true stories.

So while flooding in Nevada stranded tens of thousands of Burning Man attendees 27 August – 4 September, there was not an Ebola outbreak at the event, contrary to social media posts which went viral among Burning Man antis whose attendees according to the right leaning New York Post, are mostly rich, white and male democrats – Oh dear, I’m now confused? A double fake? Just where is the line between fact and fake?

The term “fake news” has a long history, dating as far back as 1985 when the New York Sun newspaper announced the discovery of life on the moon (news flash, it was all a hoax). But the popular term really only gained momentum during the presidential election, where Donald Trump over-egged the catchphrase time and time again!

When in doubt about your duck, use automation tools

AI has become the double-edged sword when it comes to identifying fake news. On one hand, AI has been responsible for the creation of bogus news stories, deepfake videos, and AI-generated voice clones, and has made it harder than ever to spot fake news.

On the other edge of the sword, we have AI as a detection service. And already we have seen major developments in software that is putting an end to fake content. Take Cision’s new Risk Score as an example – whether it’s hate speech, fake news, controversy, or sarcasm and spam, Cision’s AI-powered Risk Score tool can help separate the good, the bad and the ugly across articles, social media, and broadcast segments.

With up-to-the-minute insights, the technology is out there for brands to detect harmful content and predict adverse customer reactions as they happen – allowing the brand crucial time to act quickly.

Get a crisis strategy in place – every company should have one

But what should brands do if they find themselves the victim of fake news? It’s worth having a crisis management strategy in place.

Tackle the issue head on! As highlighted in our crisis comms blog back in 2021, when faced with a crisis, attack from the front. Establish an effective, clear response plan for dealing with fake news, and act swiftly and respectively. You have 24 hours to decide your action plan – so gather your facts and ensure they are accurate before making any decisions! Our Six Golden Rules of crisis management still apply.

Brand reputation matters!

With a diverse range of social and comms platforms now live, keeping a constant watchful eye on what people are saying about your brand is crucial. But don’t forget what you say and how you say it are just as important.

Yes, content is king, but don’t trust everything you read on the internet. Always let the facts get in the way of a good story!

Georgia Harris is PR Lead Themes at IBA International

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