How fake news can be good for brand engagement

How can brands combat the threat of reputational damage by fake news? By taking control of information in-house and establishing ethical brand journalism (you heard right), explains crisis communications specialist Gerry McCusker, in this guest post.

Trust in mainstream news media is down to an all-time low of 6%, according to a 2016 AP survey of Americans. Us Aussies and the Brits are probably even more cynical.mccusker_gerrypr

The question – and opportunity – now is; what’s to be done about this trust dearth?

There’s no end to the cases that have challenged media’s ‘acclaimed’ impartiality and integrity. Consider Rupert’s editorial empire, the BBC’s Jimmy Savile row and numerous other sorrowful scenarios from Jayson Blair to Joseph Mayton and we see smoke-signalled compromises between ‘news’ organisations and facts.

All of these have helped sour the news press and media’s image as truth carriers in the eyes of the public (who are all online now anyway).

So, won’t social – the peoples’ – media fix their need for credible info?

Social media is similarly untrusted

Well, the public don’t regard social media much higher, either. Despite 87% of them skimming their daily news from a “speculation aggregation” source like Facebook, only 12% believe in the integrity of these kinda channels, too. It’s a monster PR disaster for news outlets and also for vulnerable brands caught in the ‘post news’ environment.

So news-town, you have a problem.

But brands have a huge opportunity and some – such as ANZ, Lorna Jean, Red Bull and Starbucks – are not taking this news lightly; they’re taking the matter into their own hands.

They’re running their own news outlets, and any brand could do it – even without the big budgets or exciting events. It’s particularly essential for tough-to-love brands to get into the proprietary news business.

Can corporate news be ethical?

So if there’s a gap in news credibility…there’s a gap in the market. There’s a gap in authoritative, credible communication, which can be filled by ethical brand journalism! Yes, I used those terms in one sentence with a completely straight face. And before you lambast me about the evils of corporate news, consider the following:

  • Do most brands have subject matter experts whose insights can really help customers?
  • Do most businesses really know their ‘beat’ better than the journos who critique them?
  • Do corporates need to build longstanding engagement and relationships with publics?
  • Are brands better then ever at admitting their mistakes?
  • Do they need to bolster and galvanise the trust factor in their customer relationships?
  • Do they know how to turn media releases into video assets and social silo updates?*

Most organisations can probably answer yes to 5 out of 6 of the above*. Yet the current problem most businesses have is that they employ people who self-identify as being in the communications business. Today, us Comms types must also be in the news business.

Scribblers and subbies welcome

So, should brands simply run out and hire a phalanx of journos and sub-eds? Lord, no! But these newsmakers’ instincts are, more than ever, critical skills for digital publishing and online engagement.

So, instead of accepting that business news and updates can only be filtered through mediated outlets (a nightmare in crisis situations for instance) organisations can create proprietary, direct news channels.

Organisations must recognise and play to the power of SEO in shaping today’s news and tomorrow’s reputation. Our distribution mindset must address publishing for stakeholders, search and social. My business has developed social media newsrooms in emergency, healthcare and many allied sectors.

For aeons, businesses have made news – a lot of it good. The old issue was that media and press channels had an in-built resistance to good news. With the right techs and ethical outlook, we can now effectively redress the PR imbalance.

Mutual benefits

Today, the public is crying out for accuracy, clarity and timeliness. Similarly, brands, businesses and government agencies are also looking for valid strategies to help build connections, engagement and trust with stakeholders. We have ‘mutuality potential’.

More, we have the e-distribution technologies to transform PR output, into news output.

Yep, it looks like the 1980s Video News Release (much like the 80’s Oldsmobile Touchscreen) was just slightly ahead of its time. But brand journalism is a true opportunity for businesses to rebuild relationships and re-establish trust as a source of valid, valued and – most critically – veracious information.

This is potential PR gold; and you can’t trump that kind of news.trump fake news

Gerry McCusker is an Online Reputation and Issues Management specialist at Engage ORM; gerry@engageorm.com / www.engageorm.com


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