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The evolving role of PR practitioners in the post truth era

The evolving role of PR practitioners in the post truth era
By Kulpreet Freddy Vesuna, Founder & Managing Director, Impact PR Pvt. Ltd.
Post-truth is now an official “thing” – in fact, in 2016, Oxford Dictionaries declared it as its international word of the year. Defined 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” increased by around 2,000% in 2016 compared to last year.

We saw during the last American elections, how citizens of the country were consumed with the idea of expressing their entitlements to their own facts. Earlier, the sense of entitlement was for their opinions.

Audiences are increasingly flocking around their beliefs, perceptions and emotional connect. Welcome to the new reality of the end of mass persuasion. Public Relations practitioners are in the business of persuasion (mass). Since fact based persuasion techniques aren’t delivering results, in the new world today it is getting more about micro-persuasion. In the “post-truth” world with “fake news” on the rise, and media accountability and credibility shaping to a new role, it is time that PR practitioners evolve and embrace the new reality.

The post-truth era has potentially challenged the role of media to influence the minds of the masses. The growth of new online has raised concerns as the excess diversity of viewpoints would make it easier for like-minded citizens to form “echo chambers” or “filter bubbles” where they would be insulated from contrary perspectives. In today’s tech driven world, most online portals present “Fabricated News or Sponsored News” which means less credibility. Facebook/Twitter or any other social media platform for that matter has a dramatic structure of delivering the news to the masses. Content can be relayed among users with no significant third party filtering, fact-checking, or editorial judgment. An individual user with no track record or reputation can in some cases reach as many readers as those of reputed publications and journals.

During the 2016 US elections, emotion-fueled claims and uncorroborated statements hitting twitter feeds and media headlines shaped the news cycle while influencing the decision of voters at the booth. The so-called fake-news, alternative facts, or distorted realities unraveled a unique influencing trend. The mainstream stories were side-tracked while fake news spread rapidly.

Progressive Public Relations practitioners have been consumed with the idea to adapt and evolve practice areas to ensure better counsel to clients in the post-truth era. While everyone is ramping up new styles for crisis plans and pivoting story lines, this new trend is also forcing us to change how we look at PR measurement.

First, your audiences – whoever they may be – are likely to be more sceptical of you and your messages and can be more difficult to get convincedabout your argument. Second, thanks to the accessibility of
information and the blurring of boundaries between how we receive our information, consumers, employees, suppliers and investors often all absorb the same messages about your business.

But how should companies pursue communications in an era where there’s been a wide scale erosion of trust and facts? An era where post-truth seemingly reigns?

We have all been groomed to drive effective PR campaigns starting with demonstrable insights. This involves assessing the market, competitors andtarget audiences. The entire landscape has changed in the post-truth era because many hypothesis may be proved wrong because mass persuasion techniques will seize to deliver results. It is then about identifying micro audience groups and understand their drivers of facts and expressions.

Total transparency about who you are and what you do is fast becoming the accepted norm for building a trusted following. Impropriety impacts confidence. What’s more, messaging needs to be stable and lasting. Attention-grabbing campaigns must always be approached through a long-term lens and enhanced and reflected in corporate culture.

There is no doubt that we are gradually moving into challenging times;time for PR practitioners to sustain and succeed in the post-truth environment.