Trusting the messengers

Building trust amidst public health misinformation

Where do we, as humans, go for information? As evidence tells us, the answer is trusted sources. Namely, our inner circle. 

Organisations and brands of public and private sector organisations must respect and observe that fact; messaging will only be successful if their audiences trust the source in which it is originating from. Yet with misinformation so prevalent amongst online communities, how do communications agents build trust?

‘We look to the people we trust to be the bastions of truth’ – Shayoni Lynn, CEO of Lynn

For audiences to trust in communications, they must first trust in the reputation of that communication source. 

This, as Leah Morantz identified, derives from two succinct foundations: capability and character: ‘The capability aspect asks: Do you do a good job at what you do? Do you deliver a product or a service in line with the level of quality and calibre that your audience is expecting? It’s what you do, how well you do it, how accurate, how timely, how relevant you are. 

In terms of character, are you true to your values? Are you true to the values your audience is expecting of you – and are you consistent with that? Are you following through on the things you say you are going to do? 

These two things build the reputation of any organisation and it is through this trust can be cultivated and/or lost. 

Therefore building a trustworthy presence is essential if you have hopes of delivering messages which stick and achieving the ultimate goal: audience engagement and trust.

Knowing your audience and their expectations.

To do this, we must understand what our audiences expect from us and of us. But to do that, we must take time to get to know them,  their preferences, concerns, aspirations and context. 

As Lynn’s CEO, Shayoni Lynn, put it: ‘When it comes to behaviour change communications – which the pandemic was an overwhelming example of – we need to really understand the granularity of our audience. 

Looking only at superficial characteristics will never surface the motivation individuals, groups, and communities need for societal change to happen. You must also understand with 

granularity and specificity what the barriers are to those audiences receiving your messages. For example;. 

  • How are they understanding the message?
  • In what way, channels, time, circumstances might they be engaging with the message?
  • Is it easy for them to pay attention to the message or hard? Why? How could you make it easier?
  • But moreover, what are the motivators to give their valuable time and attention to your message?’

By understanding, meeting, and anticipating audience expectations and needs, your organisation, your brand, you as a messenger build a relationship of trust and reliability. 

This inordinately helps you. As Stefan Rollnick aptly commented in respect to minimising the impact of misinformation: ‘Relationships are kryptonite for misinformation’.

Yet misinformation can use those relationships against us…

… thus making the inverse the case. Preying on human behavioural norms (like when we seek out trusted messengers), purveyors of misinformation use our networks and relationships to spread to new audiences. 

This is because, as social animals, we often determine what information is reliable based on who we trust, rather than a rational analysis of the evidence. 

Indeed, when people we trust share an article, we are far less likely to question and then actually check the reliability of the source. 

For organisations and brands, the outcome of this is twofold. First, the importance of building trust cannot be negated; however, the second outcome is that without proactive promotion of factual, emotive narratives, your trust is vulnerable to erosion. The truth is, we fight misinformation not with facts, but with deeper truths. Therefore, as a marketer and communicator, the approach must be dual; build your audience’s trust and protect their trust from attack. 

A challenging job, but one we are here to support. 

The next in our webinar series is next month (June) and will feature a special guest, diving into the topic of fighting misinformation in the complex landscape of communications.

In the meantime, if you would like more information on how to fight  misinformation, check out our breakdown of the government’s Wall of Beliefs model and our assessment of the impact of misinformation in 2022, the year that was.

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