How marketers can take the lead on combating fake news

Abe Smith, president EMEA, Cision, examines the role comms teams play as an information source in maintaining brand trust.

Fake news. It’s a term which has been a journalist’s bane over the past couple of years, a catch-all soundbite encompassing both inaccurate stories and, more often than not, accurate stories which someone doesn’t like.

As I stop to consider the impact the term has had on consumer trust, it’s important to remember that there has always been scepticism of the media. This explains why “fake news” is such an explosive term, as it captures that underlying sense that consumers have always had about parts of the media.

Consider Cision’s 2018 State of the Media report, which found that 71% of journalists believe that consumer trust in the media has declined over the last 12 months. However, it also revealed that the majority of journalists either don’t know how fake news is impacting their publications, or think its impact has been neutral so far.

So, interestingly, journalists know that consumers are struggling to tell the difference between real and fake news, but can’t tell if that’s the case at their own outlet.

Lack of engagement and distrust of social media

I’m struck by the potential for indifference which a lack of trust in the media can cause. If news stories aren’t immediately believable, consumers will just tune out the noise. Any fall in engagement will cause further suffering to media brands which are already struggling to stay profitable.

One factor amplifying this distrust is the impact of social media. Given that traditional outlets producing accurate content appear on the same social feeds as fake news, this makes it extremely difficult for the untrained eye of media consumers to tell the difference between what is real and what is fake.

Added to this, recent controversies surrounding social platforms reinforce the view among some consumers that content appearing on social feeds isn’t trustworthy.

The good news is there is increasing evidence that consumers are beginning to differentiate between media outlets and social platforms.

How journalists can reverse trust issues

With challenge comes opportunity. While trust in social media remains diminished, both the Cision State of the Media report and Edelman’s Trust Barometer show that consumers are looking to traditional media outlets as an oasis of accuracy in a desert of disinformation.

In the latest Trust Barometer, trust in traditional media outlets in the UK has rebounded to 61%. That’s up from 49% last year, signalling that these titles are doing a good job of winning back the British public’s trust.

The State of the Media report found that journalists are now recognising the value of accuracy. Globally, 75% of journalists said ensuring content was 100% accurate is their top priority over being the first to break a story or getting an exclusive, with that figure rising to 81% in the UK.

In a recent webinar Jack White, celebrity content director at the likes of Now and Women’s Weekly, said that he was now more conscious about ensuring stories he published are 100% accurate, as otherwise audiences are not going believe anything his titles publish, which in turn affects brand credibility.

It is heartening to me that media brands themselves are leading fightback against fake news. News UK, publisher of The Times and The Sun, has launched a media literacy training programme for secondary school students, after research by the National Literacy Trust found that only one child in 50 can tell whether a news story is real or fake.

How marketers can help journalists

What does fake news mean to PR and marketing professionals? Again, I see it as an opportunity to shape relationships with the media. Given that journalists are busier than ever and now have the spectre of fake news stalking their every move, PRs are a reliable source of information for them.

State of the Media found that 63% of journalists surveyed trust PR professionals as the most reputable source of information. It’s now more important than ever for communicators to play their part in helping journalists to get things right.

They have to honour the trust journalists place in them by ensuring that everything they provide is accurate and based on delivering genuine insights. This is important, as any attempt to sellin content which is misleading will reflect back on the journalist, damaging their reputation and that of their brand.

In a world where consumers will only engage with the titles they trust, marketers need to help journalists fuel that trust. As studies show that consumers are more likely to follow third-party recommendations, such as those in the media, it’s a long term necessity for marketers to help journalists restore the faith of media consumers.

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