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How to Stay Credible in the World of Fake News

Whether it’s in context of social media or the 2016 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 untrue information claiming to be real news. An important clarifier of fake news is that it is different than satire (like theonion.com). 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 organizations 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 agencies stay credible? Here are some tips to make sure your agency’s communications are seen as valid and trusted by your readers.

1. Put Stake in Your Government Organization as a Source of Truth

The first step to staying credible in a world of fake news is to help people understand (and value) your organization as a credible source of information. They can trust your information because your job is to serve all people. Across the country, citizens rely on credible information from organizations with a .gov url domain. 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 organizations 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. Capture an Authentic 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 organization. And in an age where journalism is being questioned for authenticity, government communicators have a huge advantage to capture their audience. 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.

At Granicus, we focus a lot of our efforts on helping government organizations increase their reach – or the overall size of their audience. That’s because authentic reach – including all levels of engagement – is the strongest indicator of greater outcomes. With a larger audience, the higher the likelihood that your message is received, heard and acted on by more people. In all aspects of visibility – whether it’s television viewership, sports game attendance, or advertising clicks – total audience numbers are always the most valued metrics.

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 with new content, topics, or messaging. They raised their hand to hear from you, so don’t abandon them.

3. Mindfully Engage on Social Media

It might surprise you that 62 percent of adults in the U.S. get their news from social media. Knowing that so much of your audience is reading and gaining information on social platforms, it is important to remain active. 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 for the time being 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 organizations supporting your information, the better.

4. Live By a Content Code

While it guides the work of government communicators do every day, the most important thing you can do in a world of fake news is deliver authentic content through 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 as truthful.

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 to ensure this happens with your information as much as possible, it will help ensure credibility.

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

Want more thought leadership information on connecting with the modern citizen? Check out a recap and watch the on-demand version of our webinar, “5 Tips for Engaging the Modern Citizen.”