In a world of misinformation and fake news, we talk a lot about the valued role employers have as a trusted source of information.
More than ever, individuals are becoming detectives, hunting for facts in a sea of social media sensationalism. But critical analysis becomes more difficult when we’re busy, and that increases the risk of taking at face value any information which seems credible.
Within an organisation, it’s no different. Where do you look for the most recent and relevant news? The water cooler, the bulletin board, the intranet? And whose voices do you trust?
‘Unauthorised’ channels will pop up, particularly in times of uncertainty, to fill a void left by a lack of credible and reliable sources, so it’s vital to have these in place. But what really makes for a trusted source? Is it a person or a platform? And how can internal communications teams create, curate and champion them?
As workforces become more fragmented through flexible and remote working and departmental silos, it’s more important than ever to provide a single source of truth. But the very reasons for needing one can make reaching everyone a challenge.
“Digital transformation in this space has provided a huge array of options, but this is a question of content rather than channel,” says our Head of Digital, Tony Stewart.
“Whether it’s Slack, Yammer, MS Teams or Workplace, you’ve an opportunity to curate good, valuable content from trusted sources, and make it easy to access for your people – through specific and well signposted channels and groups. These online spaces become your hubs of truth and are worth their (virtual) weight in gold.”
Signs and signals
When there are multiple channels vying for our attention, it can be difficult to know which one to turn to for the correct information.
Symbols of authenticity, such as the ‘verified’ badge on platforms like Twitter, help users quickly see if someone is who they say they are. Online channels like Slack and Workplace allow you to customise channels and groups so they also include these symbols of authenticity. Using brand logos and colours helps employees recognise an official company voice.
However, having the ‘verified’ badge doesn’t stop someone from spreading misinformation. And the same applies for internal communications channels, whether they’re branded or not.
Your community managers or IC team should make sure content in these groups is ‘the real deal’, and that new content and posts are truthful and in line with what the business needs to communicate. But don’t be fearful of misinformation. If people are posting it, then it brings it to your attention and you can reach out, reply with facts and educate – actions you couldn’t take if they were just rumours circulating at team meetings.
Print vs. digital
Increasingly, we’re having conversations with global organisations who are revisiting or further investing in print to achieve cut-through and retention. It’s certainly true that print plays a valuable role but naturally, it’s a slower format.
Perfect for digesting long-form, print provides an excellent way to take information offline and expand on the story, with the opportunity to include feedback, data and interviews.
Your community managers are your truth ambassadors. Online forums such as Reddit do well by setting expectations on the community in terms of appropriate content and behaviours. Rather than censorship, it steers the channels into self-regulating against a set standard, with moderators on hand to help steady the ship where needed.
Beyond the actual channels that share the message, lead behavioural scientist, Lindsay Kohler, believes it’s all about how we perceive the messenger:
“I’ve mentioned before that the identity of the messenger is arguably more important than the message, which is why understanding who we listen to – and who we don’t – is fascinating. In general, we listen to messengers who are experts, who have proven they can be trusted, and who are similar to us. That’s why understanding the mechanics of how and who we trust is so important.”
We asked you about your most trusted sources of information and it was clear that who shares the message has a bearing on how it’s received and whether it's believed.
The right voices can be vital for halting the spread of misinformation in a business. How can IC teams elevate the voices that get noticed in their organisations?
Lead from the front
Are your people hearing enough from their leaders? It’s not always possible to put leaders centre stage. But creating communication channels between senior leadership and employees can provide a clear route to the truth.
CEOs can also foster a greater sense of trust and transparency by regularly sharing updates or taking questions from around the business.
Understand your reputation
If you’re looking to elevate the voices of leaders in your organisation, have you considered their reputation within the business? How they are perceived will have an impact on how their messages are received. Leaders who take steps to tackle negative perceptions, acknowledging shortcomings and showing willingness to improve, can build a deeper level of trust with their people.
Building a reputation as a trusted source of information has as much to do with authenticity as authority. While it’s important to cut through rumour and speculation with facts, and to be clear and direct on important issues, don’t be afraid to show a little vulnerability. Admitting you don’t know something, showing empathy and sharing real stories are all powerful traits of trusted leaders, and set out a clear intention to communicate honestly and meaningfully with the business.
Keep it consistent
‘You said, we did’ is as old as the hills but remains effective for establishing trust. People will only rely on you if you are reliable. If you promise to keep your people updated, particularly around an unfolding issue or in a period of uncertainty, honour the promise.
Involve your influencers
Updates that reflect the true stories in the business aren’t just about leaders, and they shouldn’t be. All around your organisation are people who are looked to for their expertise.
Your CFO may regularly talk to your business about the numbers. But does your Head of Innovation talk about ideas and new trends? When did people in your HR team last talk about training and development? There are sources of insight and trusted content everywhere, and IC is a catalyst for connecting these internal personalities, and their voice, across the wider business. Those connections can be built across the hierarchies, too. Don’t forget to ask the experts in your warehouse, on the road, working remotely, in the call centres and across the country, their viewpoints, to build trust ambassadors around the businesses.
Push, push, push. It doesn’t always have to be a broadcast. Make it clear which channels employees can use to get in touch and where they can expect to receive a response. Allow for processing time and feedback and, where possible, follow-up in person provides an invaluable opportunity to provide reassurance.
We heard an excellent example last year of an organisation looking to introduce Facebook Workplace at a time the platform was facing criticism around its privacy controls. Concerned employees were given the opportunity to speak, not only to the business leader, but also to reps from Facebook who were brought in to answer questions. It resulted in a successful launch of the platform and greater trust and satisfaction from employees who felt they had been truly listened to.
Ultimately, your platforms and the people on them are both important considerations, but more important than anything is to have a plan. Think about how you can build trust in the information you publish and develop a strategy to bring this to life. No matter which topics arise, this plan will help you make sure your employees know exactly where to turn.