“The real threat is when no one is going to believe anything, whether it’s real or not. Because once it’s in the psyche that we cannot tell the real from the fake, it is sort of game over.”
— Hany Farid from the Netflix documentary Connected.
Sobering words, right? And according to another Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, fake news spreads 6 times faster than the truth.
So where does that leave you, your organization, and your communications strategy?
Well, if this pandemic has taught us nothing else, it’s that whether you’re in politics or in business, there is a careful balance to be struck between reassuring your audience and being overly-confident. People need reassurance, for sure, but delivering false hope could well prove your ruin if you end up being wrong.
So how do you strike that balance between hope and realism? How do you communicate with your audience in such a way as to give them confidence that while you might not have all of the answers yet, you’ll do whatever it takes to figure it out. And how do you divorce yourself from the people and organizations that have decided to abandon ethical leadership in favor of the attention that comes from the dissemination of fake news and false confidence?
You develop a communications strategy based around trust by following four simple yet powerful guidelines:
- Be inclusive.
Your audience needs to feel like they have access not just to information, but to the people with the information. So consider: is your organization open to listening and talking with both supporters and with those who might hold opposing views? How difficult is it for someone to access information or a person within your organization? Are the people your organization serves or affects part of the decision making process?
- Be first.
And I don’t mean that in a competitive way. Every business, every organization, every leader has a story — make sure you’re the one to tell it. The last thing you want is for the media, your competition, or other interest groups to set the tone for your message, to distort your message, or to otherwise reduce the credibility of your message.
Even if your story right now is, “We’re still trying to figure this out”, make sure you’re the first to release that information.
- Be transparent (even when you don’t want to be).
In fact, let’s make that especially when you don’t want to be!
Make sure you’re telling the whole story EVERY TIME. If you don’t know, say so. And share exactly what you’re going to do to figure things out. If you’ve messed up, say so. Apologize and be clear about what you’re going to do to rectify the situation. There’s no quicker way to lose the trust of your public and your customers — and to give your competitors an edge – than when you’ve been caught holding back information.
- Focus on authenticity.
Authenticity is a word that’s thrown around with merry abandon these days and it’s a vital part of building trust with your audience. But what does authenticity actually look like?
Well, for starters, ensure that:
- Your branding and brand identity match — and support — the tone of the organization, in look, in feel, and in meaning.
- You have clearly defined values within your organization, and that these are practiced externally too.
- The “who” reflects the “what.” The people who make up your organization should reflect the communities or customers they serve.
Unfortunately we’re already at the stage where public mistrust is rife and we’re all constantly questioning whether what we’ve heard is genuine or if it’s fake news. If you want to engage your community in meaningful conversations about public projects, campaigns, and exciting new initiatives, earning their trust must be at the core of everything you do — particularly when it comes to communication.
A clear communications strategy that encompasses these four key areas is the ideal place to start.
Want to know more about communication strategy for ethical leaders and organizations? Get in touch.