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The Broadcast Monitoring Blog

Getting the Message Right: Halting Misinformation in Its Tracks

Information spreads at warp-speed. It travels near-simultaneously through traditional media outlets and social media. Along the way, many people can share and comment on your news, creating a higher risk of your message being distorted, your words taken out of context, or false information being spread.

There are many reasons that mistakes happen. There’s the initial rush to report the news, the “unofficial” commentary, confused bystander reports, and simple human error. In the past, such mistakes had limited reach, as they were generally stuck on paper or gone once broadcast. Today, however, social media can amplify the error – and in a fast and furious way.

When the media get information wrong, it can have serious repercussions for many types of organizations. For example, during a dangerous event – such as a bombing or a natural disaster – misinformation can hinder police as they try to keep the public safe. Correcting each and every instance of misinformation becomes both paramount and a daunting task. 

Similarly, food companies with recalls have an imperative to get the word out to as many people in a community as possible. But there’s no guarantee their news might make the local nightly news broadcast in areas most affected by the recall. No news isn’t always good news.

How do you halt the spread of misinformation?

Here are six ways you can ensure the media have the correct facts and are relaying your messages accurately.

Build Relationships Early

Good media relationships are the cornerstone of excellent public relations. Get to know local and national journalists before tragedy or crisis occurs. While it’s not possible to know everyone reporting on your story, it helps to have a few you can work with to correct the facts. 

Develop clear messages and FAQs

If the situation you find yourself in isn’t on your list of probable crises, hold an emergency session with your CEO and internal experts to develop a set of clear messages and frequently asked questions. Bring with you video clips of the news so that others can see how the media is framing the story to the public. This will help you craft more effective talking points.

It’s important to put these on paper and share with anyone speaking publicly about the event. When everyone speaks to the same bullet points, confusion and misinformation are minimized.

Train your spokespeople

Ideally, your spokespeople are a critical and integral part of your crisis plan, and therefore well prepared for on-camera interviews. It’s better to prep a trained spokesperson with the right messages, than risk putting someone inexperienced in front of a microphone. You can download our media training kit here. 

Put comprehensive media monitoring in place

One “citizen journalist” uploading a video to a small, local station or YouTube can cause the news to quickly get ahead of you. Your monitoring system should be capable of tracking all markets all the time. You can’t correct misinformation if you don’t know it’s being shared – or where it has appeared.

And while you must monitor traditional, digital and social channels, it’s dangerous to assume that monitoring the Internet provides comprehensive coverage. Most news broadcasts are not available on the Web.

Pay attention to tone and graphics

Be aware that nuances in tone and context may shift the real meaning of words. Broadcast news is particularly influential because it engages multiple senses. An anchor’s body language and tone of voice, along with any accompanying graphics or tickers can have a powerful impact on what viewers think and feel.

Immediate Response

The rapid-fire conversation in social media makes it particularly difficult to stop misinformation. It’s far more effective to halt the train three feet out of the station than 10 stops down the tracks.  Identify and correct misinformation as close to its origination point as possible, as near to its release as possible.

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