Digitisation is transforming how we live, learn, work, and play – with the media industry, of course, being no stranger to how digital advances are altering its landscape. Shifting consumer behaviour and a hunger for instant gratification has forever changed the way we view, consume and digest content, gradually moving away from linear offline publishing and steam-rolling ahead towards multi-platform distribution models. “Anytime, anywhere” is the general consensus.
Annual growth of internet and active social media users in Asia Pacific (APAC) has increased by 10% and 12% respectively, according to the Digital In 2019 Report by We Are Social and Hootsuite. Consumers are constantly plugged in and being bombarded by information from virtually every direction.
Thus, it is hardly a surprise that the public relations and communications industry has grown more complex. As the go-between for brands, media, consumers, and the wider community, PR professionals have to work closely with their clients to identify new storytelling opportunities that provide value to audiences.
The key connecting factor here is trust, which is imperative to building a robust relationship between a brand and its audience – and this only becomes even more imperative during times of digital uncertainty. Our job, as PR professionals is to take a brand objective and create a palatable story that not aligns with the broader business goals, but also provides guidance around sharing the right messages in an ethical and responsible manner.
As transparency comes under scrutiny and consumers slowly recognise the impact of #fakenews, PR professionals need to help further define the line between fact and fiction.
PR SHOULD ACTIVELY COMBAT FAKE NEWS
Sensational headlines will always be more appealing than the truth. According to a 2018 survey by Ipsos, four in five consumers in Singapore were confident in their ability to spot fake news – but 90% were unable to distinguish the fake headlines from the real ones. With social media acting as a hotbed for misinformation – paired with APAC consumers’ high social penetration rate – users are vulnerable to being exposed to unverified sources of information at all times.
The good news is that consumers are aware of this threat. The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer found 71% of Singaporeans rely on traditional media as a credible source of information – a five-year high – and 73% were worried about false information or fake news being weaponised for unworthy causes. The rising threat of fake news elevates trust in traditional media. In fact, the The Straits Times has dedicated an entire section to debunking it – a testament to how intrusive it is.
High-quality reporting is the way forward in the fight against fake news, and the pressure is on for media publications. Journalists have their work cut out for them – they must identify credible sources and information, and implement improved fact-checking and research processes to ensure what is published is accurate. This is a real opportunity for PR professionals to work collaboratively with journalists by providing accurate and timely information from clients and build them up as thought leaders, which in turn helps journalists gain access to credible sources. Similarly, PR practitioners have the responsibility to proactively counter misinformation and actively point out things which seem amiss.
During last year’s Trump-Kim summit as an example, we saw speculations from unverified sources on the earned media value. Our team at Mutant Communications saw the opportunity to reach out and correct the statement in subsequent news syndications. PR professionals have an obligation to help journalists and the public identify facts, and foster a transparent relationship that builds trust organically.
ETHICAL CONCERNS REGARDING THE PROMOTION OF PAID INFLUENCERS
APAC, by virtue of being one of the most digitally active regions, has seen an increase in consumers who trust in influencers, vloggers, and social media celebrities for purchasing decisions, according to the latest report by Meltwater. A report by Celebrity Intelligence shows that 80% of respondents in SEA said influencers are key in shaping their opinions and buying decisions. With this amount of digital clout, it’s not surprising that the practise of paying key opinion leaders (KOLs) to create content promoting a brand is increasingly commonplace.
However, consumers are savvy, and can easily identify when someone is being inauthentic. However, it’s not always immediately clear if a post is organic or sponsored ad – and consumers should be given enough clues to know immediately if the post is trying to sell specific items to them.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO SAY “NO” IF IT MEANS DOING THE RIGHT THING
While numerous agencies will probably disagree with our approach here, we believe it’s important to take a stand and voice disagreements when it comes to servicing clients that go against the company’s values, or even disagreeing on what is ethical and what isn’t – even if it means losing the business.
For example, we walked away from a potential client who wanted to spearhead an anti-LGBTQ agenda across Singapore. We have also said no to clients who wanted to pay us to set up fake profiles and write fake reviews for a product. We also regularly speak up against clients asking us to “fudge the numbers” or spread mistruths as part of a media pitch (though this doesn’t happen very often!) We are not mouthpieces for clients. So, rather than acquiescing to their demands without question, PR professionals should educate clients on how they can foster thought leadership the right way.
I once worked with a company that sells child passenger safety products – an area where Singapore is lagging behind its OECD counterparts. We created a comprehensive PR and content strategy around the importance of age and weight-appropriate child restraints, and converted their customers in advocates for children’s ride safety. These advocates then helped to spread our client’s messages across various parenting forums in Singapore, resulting in an increase in sales.
Nothing erodes trust faster than lies. As PR professionals, we are the messengers between all stakeholders, and it’s our job to safeguard and protect the transparency between them.
Truth is our greatest currency, and we have a responsibility to communicate with honesty. Let us work harder to create ethical brands and businesses by putting truth and transparency at the centre of everything.
This essay is the winning entry for the inaugural PRCA SEA Future Leader Award, where PR and communications practitioners aged 25 and under were invited to submit essays about the role played by the PR and communications industry in building honest businesses in a digitally disruptive age.
The essay can also be read here.
Want to forge trusting relations with your customers? We can certainly help, if you write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org