Trust. Often talked about but hard to achieve, and even harder to retain. Trust levels with politicians, chief executives and journalists in the UK are now extremely low. So who do we trust?
by Panel Writer Sarah Lay
So, here we are, in the post-facts era. A time when authenticity, trust and influence have changed dramatically as the truth takes second place to appeals to our emotions and fears. We’re in a time when, according to this YouGov poll just 18% of people trust the national press, and tabloid papers are considered less trustworthy than estate agents.
That same poll revealed that only 15% of would generally trust politicians to tell the truth, just 20% generally trust Government ministers and less than a quarter of respondents generally trust journalists. Where does that leave us as local government communicators who need to get often difficult but vital messages about a changing public service to the people who we serve, but with spokespeople and traditionally channels trusted unfavourably with by our audience?
It was a question posed from the audience at the recent Westco panel event on The Future of Digital and Customer Engagement - how do we build authenticity in the current climate?
I believe, increasingly, it is about becoming your own publisher alongside your local media and building relationships with the wider community around you. In local government this means quite a radical shift in thinking and practice away from the vetted and tightly briefed Council Spokesperson speaking to the local media, toward trusting and supporting individuals throughout the organisation to speak honestly, openly and humanly about what they do on your own channels. There’s much to do on the working practice side to achieve this so it protects staff, service and organisation from legal mishaps or reputational damage but increasingly the landscape will demand you tackle these wicked problems to have any success at all.
It means fostering new relationships alongside those you’ve built with your local media - it doesn’t mean ditching them in favour of a fully DIY approach but rather being pragmatic about use of your own social media and other channels. There’s an understanding needed here of what works and what doesn’t in terms of content, where your audience is and how you should position yourself to add the most value to those online communities and conversations.
How does this help with trust?
If you build relationships with individuals and influencers in the online versions of your communities - because that relationship is of genuine value to you both - they are likely to become advocates for you. They are influential because they are already trusted, they are already perceived as authentic. They can amplify and extend the reach and impact of your messages. An example from my experience, timely for the season: gritting information during snow.
In 2014 snow fell on Boxing Day evening and lasted for around a week. Lots and lots of information was given out about what the council was doing, how they were doing it, where people could find information relevant to their locality and support the efforts to keep a county moving. A lot of this information was received with suspicion and occasional derision, and thus was it ever so. But when local people respond to local people, even where they are repeating or supporting the official statements, the information was more readily accepted and openly received.
Advocacy from established and trusted voices in your community is a vital part of your communications mix. Communications is no longer hierarchical, but networked - you need to connect, share and amplify far more than you broadcast. Put your efforts into wider relationship building than with traditional outlets, put it into trusting more voices across your organisation to advocate for you.
As communicators we still have the post-fact era storm to weather but we’ll fare better with trust if we put ours in the communities around us.
Sarah Lay is a freelance digital content strategist and music journalist. She's led large scale digital transformation projects in the public sector, delivered innovative online campaigns, co-founded LocalGov Digital and also runs a record label and is editor at Louder Than War. Find her at www.sarahlay.com and on Twitter @sarahlay.
Image via Kim Scarborough