Photo: Flickr/James McNellis
What would the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan make of it all? The legacy of Moynihan, the long-serving US Senator from New York, includes this famous quote: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
In the age of ‘alternative facts’ Moynihan’s words have fresh potency.
Today, Twitter is full of news of White House adviser Kellyanne Conway (pictured above) talking about how two Iraqi refugees masterminded the ‘Bowling Green massacre’ as a justification for the controversial visa ban.
But the Cato Institute, which tracks terrorist incidents in the US, has no record of any such event.
The veracity or otherwise of the claim will likely have no impact on how it is received. A large proportion of the US electorate will regard it as further evidence of the need to secure America’s borders. Others will merely see it as another sign that the political system is broken.
If truth in fact is now regarded as optional – by governments, elements of the media, even consumers – where does that leave companies (and their communications advisors) and their relationships with the outside world?
The truth is that the sands have been shifting beneath our feet for some time. The advent of social media has given a voice to millions who can now share their opinions – and, yes, often their own facts – about services and products provided, about corporate ethics and behavior. About absolutely whatever they want.
So where 20 years ago a company might only need to worry about how the Financial Times or Le Monde told their story, today they might quickly find their stories being told by hundreds or even thousands of people. And there are myriad cautionary tales of companies that have had to fight rearguard actions against alternative narratives that have inflicted significant damage on their reputations.
And how should we counter that? My view is that first and foremost we need to apply the long-established basics of our craft: understand what your story or line is on a particular issue, articulate it, be proactive and stick with it. Make sure you’re accurate, transparent, consistent, aligned and when things start getting hot, hang in there with it.
The channels may have changed, and the way we tell our stories, as well as the speed of the process. Where once we might have had hours to get our story straight, now we only have minutes. A Twitter mob waits for nobody.
We should have confidence in what we do and confidence in our narrative. Finally, we should act with integrity and with respect for facts. Our reputation will likely depend on it.
About the author
Ben Hunt is Director of Communications at Madrid-headquartered Amadeus IT Group. Previously, he was Director of External Relations at Nokia Siemens Networks. An EACD member since 2014, Ben has also worked in the agency field as Director of Corfin Public Relations in London, and was editor of Financial Times Digital Business for six years.
About this blog
Throughout the year, EACD will publish a series of online content around our 2017 themes: Authenticity, Personalisation of Communications, Digitalisation, Europe, and Trust. To share your insights on these topics, contact firstname.lastname@example.org