Post-truth and earning trust with content

feet on pavement

At this time of year, there’s always a regular news story that resonates with us. (And by “us” we mean people who work with words as part of their job.) We’re talking about the Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Year story.

In fact, this annual story has become a staple of news media every November. The word can be one that’s just been invented, or one that has risen in prominence over the past 12 months.

This year Oxford has chosen “post-truth”. You might’ve noticed that word used in the context of the Brexit referendum and the US election this year. There was emotional debating (on both sides of each vote) and accusations of lies and half-truths from every corner.

The Guardian reports: “Defined by the dictionary as an adjective ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’, editors said that use of the term ‘post-truth’ had increased by around 2,000% in 2016 compared to last year. The spike in usage, it said, is ‘in the context of the EU referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States’.”

“Post-truth” popped up elsewhere too: Facebook has been accused of filtering your feed so that you’ll only read stories you agree with, “fake news” stories and sites have proliferated this past year and fact-checking is becoming harder as more and more social media account proliferate (many of which are agenda-serving robots).

So it’s probably an understatement to say that the Internet has become less trustworthy in recent months. And as a result, there’s an even greater onus on content creators – and those who hire them – to build trust.

How do you build trust in this post-truth world? It can be done!

Checks and balances

Now, more than ever, content has to be watertight and rock-solid. Claims and statistics demand sources, quotes should be properly attributed (and given appropriate and fair context) and language should be clear.

Transparency

The very idea of content is often misunderstood, especially when it’s lumped in with ad copy. A simple way to differentiate it is that copy must be compelling, while ad copy is selling. So content is unburdened by the need to sell at all times, which frees it to communicate more plainly.

As readers online grow less trusting, the onus increases on companies to gain customers’ trust to be more open and transparent.

Tone

Finally, clarity of language is more important than ever. That means no hollow hyperbole, no click-bait headlines (“You won’t believe what happens next!”) and no hysteria.

That leaves plenty of scope for colourful, playful, helpful, entertaining, but clear language.

Trust is a sacred thing, and it can be earned by communicating the right way. If we all play our part, maybe next year will be post-post-truth!

If you’d like to chat to us about content and communication, do feel free to get in touch.