At a time where the average consumer is bombarded with misinformation on a daily, even hourly basis, our role as communications professionals to preserve truth in communications is now as important as it’s ever been. Why has this issue bubbled up? There are three main factors influencing today’s PR professionals.
1. Fake News is the New News
The recent election gave way to a phrase used repeatedly by now-President Trump and his followers: “Fake news!” In the U.S. and Europe especially, it has become a prominent phrase used against both the media and those working in communications. Part of it stems from a natural distrust of the media and their “biased agendas”; immaturity when one disagrees with facts; the use of misleading headlines, also known as clickbait; and a race to be one of the first to share breaking news, sometimes without thoroughly double-checking the facts.
When 80% of students can’t differentiate between real news and fake news, we have a problem. A big one. Recently in the U.S., many of us woke up to the terrible news of the mass shooting in Las Vegas. As everyone rushed to figure out what happened, fake news went viral: people began to provide their own details (most which were untrue) and falsely identified the shooter. As a result, false information made it to the top of Google search results before being debunked, but the damage had already been done.
80% of students can’t differentiate between real news and fake news
As communications professionals, we need to forget about “being first” and do our homework to ensure we’re not spreading misinformation before sharing any articles or breaking news.
2. Integrity Is Being Threatened
Ask a random person what they think about PR and some may point to Samantha of Sex and the City fame – it’s a glamorous lifestyle where she “spins” stories. This isn’t true, however some facets of PR seem a bit confused. We should be storytellers, not story-spinners. Telling a story and connecting with consumers is, in my opinion, one of the foundations of being a strong PR professional.
In a time when the media and as an extension, the communications industry as a whole, is under constant attack by “Fake News!” claims, it’s important to continue to tell stories, rather than trying to “spin” them.
As PR professionals, we have a lot of influence on public opinion and with the rise of social, it can be challenging when dealing with client’s (or our own) mistakes on a more global platform. However, if we remain transparent, we won’t need to resort to “spinning” an issue and rather face it head on in an authentic and human way.
3. New Channels, New Regulations
With the emergence of new types of communications, it’s more important than ever to be transparent.
Stories aren’t told through just one channel. Integrated communications strategies have given way to the need to communicate a company’s message through multiple channels: earned owned and paid. That can include leveraging influencers, content marketing, and sponsored posts. A study by Contently found that consumers can’t tell the difference between a native advertisement in any form and a regular article. The same can be said for sponsored posts on Instagram with the #ad hashtag wedged between others, making it difficult for consumers to know what’s “real”.
The FTC has recently released new regulations, which call for more transparency in influencer marketing. According to the guidelines “influencers should clearly and conspicuously disclose their relationships to brands when promoting or endorsing products through social media.” They represent a necessary shift as this section of the marketing industry is evolving and maturing.
We don’t want to be known as a distrustful industry (some already think we are) which is why we need to continue to build a platform of transparency. With the emergence of new types of communications, it’s more important than ever to be transparent. We need to call back to the industry’s roots of increasing and improving brand messaging, and remember that authenticity is key.