When did we get so impatient? In this world of frantic, always-on comms, when did we stop pausing to check the facts?

This morning the hashtag #BuckinghamPalace was trending on Twitter. As was #PrincePhilip amid speculation there was an announcement due from the Palace at 8am.

People were jumping to conclusions, declaring births, deaths and marriages of the Royal Family. Speculation and rumours were rife.

It made me turn on the TV and have BBC Breakfast on in the background while getting my children organised for the day.

At 7.47am I Tweeted this:

Nothing happened. No announcement.

As the clock ticked past 8am, the level of patience expired online. Curiosity turned to anger, turned to memes.

Then rumours started that there would be an announcement at 10am and all eyes were apparently on the flagpole as half-mast would signal a death.

According to the Independent, The Sun newspaper reportedly stated Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh had died:

 

There was an announcement at 10am. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, is stepping down from Royal duties aged 95 (who can blame him. Thank you for your service Sir!).

I’m working with a national newspaper client today, on the way into the office I wondered what today would bring if birth/death/marriage announcements did materialise.

But I waited. I wanted to check facts. When did we – as a society – stop doing this?

In this age of fake news, and as professional communicators, we have a responsibility. Yes to be timely, but to check the facts. More than that to VERIFY facts.

I blogged in January about fake news and the difference between fake and verified news. These are topics I think about and have talked through with my clients and Masterclass attendees.

In my article I highlighted the work the BBC is doing to tackle fake news, including its @bbcrealitycheck Twitter account. Which interestingly, chose not to address the rumours today. I checked its website too this morning, which had no mention of the rumours. (They are focused mainly on the election at the moment).

In January I asked Institute of Internal Communication President Suzanne Peck her thoughts on fake news. She told me: “Fake news strikes a foundation stone in internal communications – that of truth. Be sceptical of things that just don’t sound right; only share content from sources that you know are good and true; and care about evidence and accuracy.”

Here’s an extract from my glossary to help you understand the terms:

Dark social is a term coined by Alexis C. Madrigal, a senior editor at The Atlantic, to refer to the social sharing of content that occurs outside of what can be measured by Web analytics programs.

Fake news is false information which has been crafted and shared, usually for a purpose. Perhaps to persuade you to believe something about a person or influence you to behave in a certain way.

Fake news websites (also referred to as hoax news) deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda and disinformation — using social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect.

Unverified news hasn’t been checked to say whether it’s true or false. It means sources haven’t been checked (verified) yet.

Patience is: the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.

It was fascinating to watch the level of patience evaporate online. By 8.02am – two minutes after the rumoured announcement deadline, people were already angry and feeling duped.

What do I think?

You need to role model the behaviour you wish to see.

What would organisational communication be like if we didn’t take the time to check facts? You need to check sources, are they credible, are they reliable? What if we just pushed out speculation and rumours or let conversations continue online or in ESNs without pitching in to clarify and outline facts?

What impact would this have on our companies? On trust and truth?

Where’s the truth?
I conduct communication audits as part my consultancy business. I love doing them and practice them in the true sense of the word audit – to listen.

(It comes from the Latin word auditus, which means ‘to hear’), and this is a great mindset to be in when thinking about your company’s communication).

Further reading: How to conduct an internal comms audit.

One question I ask clients when analysing their methods, strategy and channels is about truth.

I ask Comms Directors: “Do you have a single source of truth? Where do employees know they can go to get reliable and honest answers and information? If they heard rumours about the company externally, what’s your internal source of truth? Who can they ask?”

For some organisations it’s their leaders. Clients tell me: “Our employees know they can ask their managers and senior leaders.”

Or perhaps: “The intranet/Yammer/email (delete as appropriate!) – employees know they can ask here and get an answer.”

I then ask employees the same question.

You won’t be surprised to hear the answer often varies between where comms teams think their single source of truth is, and where employees say it is, or that it doesn’t exist.

Why does this matter?

It matters because for corporate communication to be effective it has to be accurate, credible, reliable and trusted.

Plus it needs to reflect the reality of the organisation it’s shared in, resonate with employees and provide opportunities for them to join and shape the conversation.

If in doubt, don’t share it on.

People in my network have been expressing their thoughts on this morning’s events via social media including Ketchum’s Stephen Waddington @wadds:

I’m interested to know your views on this topic, you’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 4 May 2017.

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