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It’s exceedingly unlikely that a powerful man with golden hair will stand at a podium, point to a representative of your company, and declare that your business is “very fake news” before all the world’s cameras. Still, in the age of fake news, trust in brands and their content marketing efforts is in a precarious position. Here’s what you can do to build brand trust in the age of fake news.

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The Rising Skepticism of Consumers

Just what happened to public trust? A new report from Edelman reveals things are as bad or worse than you think they are. The agency’s president and CEO, Richard Edelman, calls it an “implosion of trust” in his executive summary of the new 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer survey:

We have moved beyond the point of trust being simply a key factor in product purchase or selection of employment opportunity; it is now the deciding factor in whether a society can function.

Edelman goes on to say that trust is down from last year for all sectors tracked by the survey, including government, media, business, and NGOs. Average trust of mass audiences is said to be below 50% in the U.S. as well as globally, and only 15% trust the system is working.

With these survey results, you start to get a better picture of why there seems to be so much polarization in politics and how both businesses and media are now being affected. There are many opportunities here for businesses and marketers who understand this problem, but then, that’s also a factor at play.

Pinning Down What’s Fake News

It has to be said that one of the more exasperating challenges of the fake news phenomenon seems to be an unwillingness of some big media players even to admit what is and is not fake news. Let’s try to delicately sort that out.

Everyone, hopefully, can agree that chemtrails, flat-Earth conspiracies, and false reports of celebrity deaths are news items that are indeed fake. However, some large media outlets continue to make matters worse for themselves and everyone else by painting truthful-yet-inconvenient news items as fake — particularly when the scoop comes from one of their upstart competitors — while at the same time making excuses for their veteran reporters getting important details of major stories incorrect.

Some media outlets seem to think that it’s still an earlier era when savvy consumers couldn’t  — and don’t — simply check sources on their own with Google or crowdsource real public sentiment via a hashtag on Twitter — in fact, the Edelman survey says as much, with survey respondents saying the “experts” are no more reliable than “someone like me.” In effect, the days of being able to spin a story, even for our good, are pretty much over. Now, it’s time to embrace transparency and authenticity, for the good of our brands and the good of our customers.

How Brands Could Be Impacted by Fake News

There are important ways that fake news and a lack of public trust could have a big impact on your business and your business’s marketing efforts. Here are the top three that come to mind.

First, this is a problem that can’t be ignored without consequences. AdWeek says that marketers have to “double down” on trust marketing to counteract consumer sentiment. It’s particularly important to younger consumers, with some data suggesting upwards of 85% of these demographics “aren’t buying it.”

What messaging aren’t they buying? Quite a lot. Edelman says the most trusted figure you could put in front of an audience last year was a technical expert, trusted by 67% of consumers. But this year, technical experts fell in credibility to 60% — the same level of trust as an academic expert or an ordinary person. Trust only goes down from there. Only 37% trust the word of a CEO and even fewer trust a board of directors. Less than half (48%) trust an employee’s testimony. The effect here is that no matter your choice of spokesman, the impact of your PR efforts could be less than anticipated.

Lastly, another risk in the fake news era is for your brand to get tied up with the propagation of fake news. Marketing Week says being associated with purveyors of fake news could hurt consumer trust in your brand. This issue is complicated, as ad impressions for “fake news” content aren’t always bad. Dominic Carter, chief commercial officer at News UK, noted:

We don’t have a fake news problem; we have an issue with getting advertisers to understand the value of credible, trusted news versus an audience, which is playing to the hands of the distributors.

How Your Brand Can Remain Trustworthy

Though the fake news phenomenon is certainly a complicated development, there is a way forward and even an opportunity for some brands to get ahead.

AdWeek argues that the data shows it’s time for a shift in how ad dollars are spent. The article argues it’s time to double down on existing customers, whose testimonials, reviews, feedback, and earned media promotion have just as much impact as traditional advertising or marketing. Review tools, social media, and customer care can have a big impact here.

Another takeaway is that there is an opportunity for brands to engage their employees in their everyday marketing efforts. As employees are some of the most trusted representatives of a brand, it could be smart to turn them into brand ambassadors. Hubspot expert Iliyana Stareva notes an easy way to do this is to craft a short value proposition that’s easy for them to remember and deliver: “We do [x] for [y] by [z] because [r].”

Finally, one bright note from the Edelman survey is that trust in search engines is increasing. 64% said they trusted Google and other search tools for general information in 2017, up three points from last year. There was also increased trust for online-only media (51%) and owned media (2%). This is a real opportunity for brands who invest in SEO and content marketing, as quality information is indeed valued by survey respondents and is trending upwards.

It’s certainly a weird time for news, media, and business, but there is a clear path forward for building brand trust and avoiding the pitfalls of fake news. With the right strategy, your business can be part of the solution to the fake news problem.

Have questions about building brand trust for your business? Call us at 313-338-9515 or email to learn how our full-service digital agency can help.