What does the rise of ‘fake news’ mean for your PR strategy?
In the week that Channel 4 announced its plans for a week of programmes on fake news, we’re looking at what the rise of fake news, and everyone’s awareness of it, means for PR.
Donald Trump is at the forefront of this phenomenon. While his stance on supposed false stories spread by the media has highlighted the issue, or at least sparked a debate in the USA, it’s also created a conversation around fake news as an international issue.
It’s also something that has become more noticeable in the UK over the past year. From various real and trusted news outlets accidentally sharing false information (such as publishing an image of an attack on Brussels airport, that actually turned out to be a picture of an attack on Moscow in 2011) to ‘fake news websites’ that purposely push hoax stories.
With these false details and websites being questioned and outed, people are more wary of false information than they’ve ever been.
Whether it’s knowing when you see a fake story on a hoax news website, or questioning the spokesperson or information source referenced in an article, people are beginning to become wary and questioning almost everything they read.
What does this mean for PR strategy, particularly the news stories that brands want to shout about?
The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth
As my Aberfield colleague, Tim Downs, pointed out in his recent blog post on PR predictions for 2017, the truth will out. This isn’t to say your stories were untrue or fake before, but rather a heads up that you need to be more conscious of where your information is coming from, especially if you’re writing stories based on current events or trends.
As publications prepare to have articles fact-checked and questioned more than usual, be ready for that to result in more fact-checking for you and your stories.
Know where any facts and figures you’re using in press releases come from and make sure they’re from a reputable source. While you don’t have to go overboard on explanations and legitimising initially, it won’t hurt to have an answer ready for any questions that pop up.
Responding to news stories
Many brands and companies respond and react to news stories, commenting on the impact it has on their audience, consumers or industry, which is a great way to get involved in discussions and create engagement.
Moving forward, when responding and reacting to news stories from your company or brand, it’s worth double-checking that the publication and the news itself is credible. Many hoax websites can be set up to look exactly like trusted ones, so don’t be fooled.
Fake news guidelines
People will actively seek out flaws in articles and news stories. For example, the BBC’s guidelines on spotting fake news advises people to ask ‘has this been reported anywhere else?’. So the more coverage you get, the more credible your story appears to be, and if it’s only reported on a relatively unheard of website, it might be questioned.
While it’s always been worth targeting reputable news sources, this applies now more than ever.