By Dorothy York, President and CEO of North American Precis Syndicate (NAPS)
As public health information programs are developed, there has been increasing scrutiny of the veracity of the content, in the Fake News era. Persuading the public to act requires a professional communications plan that is resilient to change and includes agile responses to new information.
Like the game of telephone, that we played as children, in which a message is whispered from one person to the next, all around a circle, until it comes back sounding like a vastly different story, so too, even with the best of intentions,can information lead to a chain reaction of misinformation. Some bad actors start off whispering a story that is untrue, which makes matters worse and the public less trusting of the news, even if it is from a reliable source.
Trust has to be earned for meaningful change to take place. The best way to earn trust is to tell the truth, consistently, citing credible sources, such as the government, doctors, scientists, or other reputable experts whose word should be beyond reproach. Even the best sources can make mistakes, which should be corrected as soon as possible, as new information becomes available and situations evolve .
As we watch the leaders of our society trying to set a good example by exhibiting the desired behavior, which is helpful, it would be even better if we could see case studies of people who have actually benefited from following the recommended course of action. It takes time to build trust, which becomes easier when people start to see that a plan is working.
An easy way to earn trust is to have the helpful information repeated again and again in a wide variety of prestigious news media, which people turn to regularly as their primary source of information about new developments and strategies for protecting their health and safety.
Traditional media that is hyperlocal, followed by millions regularly, is a highly trusted resource for health experts to disseminate their helpful advice. Journalists are willing to share information, which could help save lives, if it is from medical experts that are reputable and trustworthy. Statistics should be credible, including the source of the information, such as a survey, a study, a trade association, the government, or the opinion of a doctor.
Some like to use celebrity spokespeople, but if they are paid, that must be disclosed, and they will only be credible if they have had a real life experience that relates to the news to be shared.
The public needs to know what the benefit is of the message that is being conveyed and how they can believe that the information is accurate. If the information is helpful, and shown to be true, people will follow advice like a bee to honey.