How PR can combat “fake news”

If you’re skeptical about what you see online, in the paper or on the evening news, you’re not alone. Trust in the news media has been eroding for decades, and it took an even deeper dive during the past year. According to an annual Gallup poll, only 32 percent of Americans say they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media.

This is problematic for public relations firms specializing in “earned media,” the result of working with reporters and editors to have their clients included in news articles. After all, if people are skeptical of news media, they may also doubt the veracity of articles including client mentions.

Traditionally, earned media has been the most trusted and credible of the three types of media (earned, owned and paid). That’s because when reporters write an article the reader assumes the information has been vetted and is accurate.

In addition, earned media is a terrific source of qualified leads. In fact, lead generation driven by earned media out-performs lead generation driven by paid media by 10-15 percent, and it is especially effective with millennials, according to Bazaarvoice.

There are a few things companies can do to ensure their earned media retains a high degree of credibility:

  1. Let your customer tell the story. Recommendations from personal acquaintances or opinions posted by consumers online are the most trusted forms of advertising, according to the Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey. According to the survey, 90 percent of consumers said they trust recommendations from people they know, and 70 percent trust online consumer opinions. Articles that focus on how your company or product helped a customer can be a powerful way to amp up credibility.
  2. Produce good thought leadership. I wrote about the value of thought leadership recently. Executives invested in educating their industry through non-promotional byline articles, and those willing to provide context to reporter-generated articles, position themselves and their companies as trusted and knowledgeable experts.
  3. Mine your company data for news. Most companies are sitting on a goldmine of customer data that can be aggregated and analyzed to find trends, best practices and other newsworthy information. Plus, the data tells the story. For example, several years ago we were working with an email service provider, trying to help elevate them as trusted marketing partners when the industry had the  preconceived notion that marketing email was spam. We were able to look at email records from hundreds of companies sending thousands of emails to determine important tidbits, such as the best day and time to send a marketing email. This was valuable information to marketers and seen as highly credible information.

Finally, it’s crucial to adhere to strict ethical standards in earned media efforts. This means always being truthful, not overselling and being able to back up all claims.

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