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How to create trusted content

In this era of fake news, consumers are wary of what they see in the media, especially online, but it is possible to present information in more credible ways.

Fake news is old news

Fake news is not a new phenomenon. As Richard Merrin, managing director of PR agency Spreckley Partners, explains: “The idea of fake news has been around since the start of history. For instance, the statue of American Patriot, Paul Revere, depicts a slender, graceful man delivering news atop an elegant stallion with a stance that resonates a majestic quality, when in reality, Paul Revere was a portly short gentleman shouting from a donkey. The point here is that all too often history – and the myths around it – is prone to ‘reinterpretation’ at best, down right lies at worst.”

Alternative facts

Today’s fake news can be just as outrageous. Especially, Merrin says, when “facts” can so easily be assembled to support one argument or another and can be open to such widely differing interpretations. “The argument then posed by Trump cheerleader Kellyanne Conway that ‘alternative facts’ are now a legitimate part of the news agenda, places the spotlight not just on politicians but on the PR industry itself.”

This means producing communications for mass consumption that don’t look fake can be tricky. In the panel below Merrin gives tips to show your news is authentic.

Five ways to be taken seriously

  1. Avoid using exclamation marks in headlines. This can seem sensational and over the top when portraying facts.
  2. Don’t use a click-bait headline. “You won’t believe how many people will get sick of your material if you do…” This tactic is considered annoying and spammy to serious readers.
  3. Research your references. If you use other sources to back up your own story – make sure they aren’t fake news to start with. Your own story needs to be informed by legitimate sources if you want it to be seen as gospel, and with the rise of Facebook fact checkers in the US and Germany – this may affect the reach of your news if you get caught out.
  4. Make sure your image checks out. Don’t be branded as fake by using a terrible, or cheesy image. Use an image that suits your story, is legal to use, and adds an official edge to your news.
  5. Above all else, use your common sense as your readers would. If it looks fake to you, then it will look fake to your audience.


Know your audience

A golden rule for creating content that resonates with an audience is to get to know your audience. Jessica McAndrew, digital communications director at PR agency Beattie Group, says this means turning to data: “The digital world gives brands the ability to dig into demographics and discover who their consumer actually is – gender, age, geography, likes and dislikes.

“Delivering information which is relevant and useful to the consumer is the best way to build trust and get attention. Data also reveals where your consumer can be found, and this will dictate the media used to send your messages out. Brands like Amazon and Netflix are advertising to consumers all the time by showing them what they want to see. Listen to what consumers want by tracking purchases, studying how they interact with your website – where they go, what they click on, if they arrive via mobile or laptop.”

Digital media may not be trusted as much as traditional media, but McAndrew points out that consumers do trust other consumers, so working with micro influencers who offer an authentic voice to your audience (such as bloggers) will boost trust.

Why broadcast is best

When it comes to disseminating news though, broadcast has to be the way to go. Adam Cox, managing director of PR agency Radio Relations, offers compelling reasons why: “The amount of fake news is directly linked to the specific media type. With online media and social media there are no barriers preventing stories from being made up. Even in the print media the Leveson inquiry and the Fake Sheik scandal revealed that the UK tabloids were happy to put a story before the truth. This all changes the moment you move into radio and TV due to the regulatory body OfCom.”

Cox describes how OfCom works: “OfCom give radio stations and TV channels a license to broadcast and that license can be revoked. It only takes one complaint to launch an Ofcom investigation so radio and TV journalists alongside producers and editors will do whatever it takes to ensure that a story is accurate before reporting. In 2009 OfCom carried out a study showing that radio was the most trusted source of news, 66% of people considered radio to be reliable and accurate, compared with 58% for online, 54% for TV and just 34% for newspapers. The reason for this is the editorial guidelines being so strict and the quality of journalism being very high quality.”

Hearing is believing

These days, seeing may not be believing, but the spoken word is still credible. Ideally, your spokesperson will be on broadcast news, but for non-news content, choosing the right influencer is a vital part of any campaign. It’s not just what you say, but who you get to say it.

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