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How to stay credible in a world of fake news

Whether in context of social media or the 2016 US election, you’ve likely heard the term “fake news” in the last year. Most often, fake news is in reference to articles or stories published with false information claiming to be real news. An important clarifier of fake news is that it is different from satire (like Fake news is actually intended to mislead the public in the hope that it will be shared widely, and as a result, increase the spread of false information in support of a specific agenda.

The scariest part about fake news stories? Most people believe them and it is difficult to undo the damage they can have to organisations or people involved once they go viral.

With an increase of fake news being perpetuated – particularly on social platforms – how can information disseminated by government organisations stay credible? Here are some tips to make sure your agency’s communications are trusted and received as valid by your readers.

1. Establish your government organisation as a source of truth

The first step to staying credible in a world of fake news is to help people understand (perceive and value) your organisation as a credible source of information and truth. They can trust your information because your job is to serve all people. Across the country, citizens rely on credible information from organisations with a .gov url domain in the US (and domain in the UK). As the University of Georgia writes, “If you come across a site with this domain, then you’re viewing a government site. The information is considered to be from a credible source”.

Government organisations have long been considered providers of valuable, credible information – not perpetrators of fake news. This is why maintaining credibility with your content during this time is so important. When releasing information to the public, make sure the source of your information is linked towards the top. Ensure your audience has clear access to data, survey results, public comments, and all other relevant information that supports your information.

2. Attract a keen audience looking for credible information

There is no greater value than a person who voluntarily raises their hand and asks to hear from your government organisation. And in an age where journalism is being questioned for authenticity, government communicators have a huge advantage to attract and retain new audiences. When your audience comes to you directly, it’s a clear indication that they have an interest in listening to what you have to say. This is why capturing authentic audience members – most often in the form of subscribers – is so important to staying credible. Give people easy options to connect with your organisation, via all channels available. Choice for citizens is key – it helps show you care about their needs.

At Granicus, we focus a lot of our efforts on helping government organisations increase their reach – or the overall size of their audience. That’s because authentic reach – when considering all levels of engagement – is the strongest indicator of the potential for great outcomes. The larger the audience, the more people you’re likely to inform, engage and move to take any necessary action. In all aspects of visibility – whether it’s television viewership, sports match attendance, or advertising clicks – total audience is always the most valued metric.

It’s okay to have some portion of your audience remain inactive, but remember: in the world of subscribers, there is power in letting your audience participate when they want, or unsubscribe at will. If they are inactive, don’t give up on them – work to re-engage them by introducing them to new content, topics, or messaging. They raised their hand to hear from you once before, so don’t abandon them.

3. Be proactive on social media

It might surprise you that social media has outstripped TV as the number 1 news source among young people in the UK, and 62 percent of adults in the US get their news from social media. Knowing that so much of your audience is being exposed to information and absorbing all kinds of “news” on social platforms, it is important to remain active, and be present there too. But how can you differentiate your tweets or posts from the fake ones?

First, it’s important to approach social media with your eyes wide open. Know that by participating in social platforms, you’re working to level the playing field between true and false information being spread. Approaching social media with clear messaging (and words that have the least likelihood of being misconstrued) is an important first step.

Second, you can also look to partner with other credible sources on social media to help amplify your messaging. If you are a state agency, your natural go-to sources could be other agencies within your state – reach out to other communications teams to ask for a retweet or repost to add credibility to your information. The more credible organisations supporting your information, the better.

4. Live by a content and style guide

The most important thing you can do in a world of fake news is continue to counter any false narratives and deliver authentic content in open, accessible and engaging ways. Heading into an ocean of fake news means that your audience will be more skeptical than ever of your messaging, so make it easy for them to differentiate your content and believe it.

Providing clear information (in plain language) up front with an opportunity for your audience to ask questions, dig deeper, and clarify in the ways they need to, will build trust. If you can be guided by a content code (for example by adhering to your organisation’s own design, messaging, content and style guide), this kind of brand consistency in the “look and feel” of your messaging will help ensure credibility.

Staying credible in a world of fake news can seem daunting, but the best path forward is to establish your organisation as a source of truth, build an authentic audience and then continue to produce useful, targeted content. This process in itself is an honest one, and will help your organisation rise above fake news.

Need some help reaching your target audience? Want to increase engagement with your content and services? Join us at a Public Sector Digital Engagement Day near you to network and learn from other digital leaders.