- We are living in the age of information where ‘data is the new oil’.
- However, if this ‘oil’ is not leveraged correctly, it also does the job of ‘adding fuel to the fire’
Gaurav Patra, Founder, Value360 Communicationsshares a few ways in which one PR can work around these bottlenecks to ensure reaping only the benefits of information instead of being deterred by Infodemic?
According to the dictionary by the renowned publishing house, Merriam Webster“Infodemic is a blend of ‘information’ and ‘epidemic’ that typically refers to a rapid and far-reaching spread of both accurate and inaccurate information about something, such as a disease. As facts, rumours, and fears mix and disperse, it becomes difficult to learn essential information about an issue.”
The term Infodemic was coined in 2003 in a Washington Post column by David Rothkopf. Not surprisingly, the term made a comeback during Covid-19 when people were experiencing a never-before illness of global proportions and were searching for answers across all quarters. To make matters worse, ease of accessibility to data and information via internet led to the Infodemic spreading like wildfire across social media platforms, to the extent that the World Health Organisation had to implement a strategy to deal with this challenge.
The counter effects of Infodemic
“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic,” said TedrosAdhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) at a gathering of foreign policy and security experts.
As the name suggests, the Infodemic referred to, in this context, was the plethora of information available, unofficially, to the general public about the pandemic. There were a variety of theories floating around the pandemic and causing chaos in the minds of the naïve consumers of that information, at a time when an official and direct line of communication was required to assuage the already existing panic. Social media became the most popular channel to spread misinformation, distorted facts and absolutely baseless information, akin to a modern-day Chinese Whisper. Clearly, this added to the pandemonium of pre-existing fears and notions, with everybody giving their own spin each time information was exchanged. The focus suddenly shifted from providing an effective solution to the challenge of spending time, energy, money and efforts to demystifying the myths created. There was a general sense of distrust and impatience among the world owing to the barrage of information coming their way, only to be dispelled as a myth or gossip.
PR in the age of Infodemic
We are living in the age of information where ‘data is the new oil’. However, if this ‘oil’ is not leveraged correctly, it also does the job of ‘adding fuel to the fire’. Simply put, like two sides of a coin, information is not independent of its own demerits when it takes the form of distorted information or misinformation. While information has empowered us to scale greater heights, break boundaries and evolve, its incorrect use can lead to the exact opposite. Today, information has percolated to all levels with the availability of smartphones and affordable data packages. On the positive side, information in digital and social times, is erasing boundaries and even altering the concept of time-based (unlike newspapers or pre-determined TV show slots). While this is the ‘Dr. Jekyll’ side of having access to information, the ‘Mr. Hyde’ perspective of information ensures it spreads across the same plane at the same speed, if not swifter, especially when it’s incorrect or malicious.
This is especially detrimental for brands when a negative review/news or a half-baked or incorrect news snowballs into a collective problem for a much larger audience. This could even lead to a mass negative perception building. Additionally, the audience has direct access to brands and its management to air out concerns. It is also imperative to note that the digital and social media platforms serving as a repository of information around the clock. Not only is information available at all hours but it is also considered to leave a permanent impression as it can be retrieved any number of times in the future through the click of a button. This imposes a very different kind of challenge to public relations in the age of information in order to position a brand in the desired manner.
The way ahead...
So, how does PR work around these bottlenecks to ensure reaping only the benefits of information instead of being deterred by Infodemic?
First and foremost, PR should continuously ensure a steady flow of communication on key corporate engagements, so as to not leave a window for speculative or counter-productive newsflow. Brands should be visible on both online and offline platforms at intervals which are not considered as bombarding the target audience with unsolicited information. In the event of a misinformation or adverse news doing the rounds on a large scale, it should be addressed directly by the management to assuage detrimental sentiments and give them a sense of assurance. Even if the negative news is true, it should be addressed directly instead of beating about the bush. This makes the audience is far more understanding and cooperative about the matter at hand. There should not be any delays in communicating as it may be perceived as evading the issue. In case the source can be located, a statement should be issued immediately carrying the views of the brand.
Content strategy would play a key role in the age of Infodemic. Strategies should be flexible, yet yield appropriate results. Brands should hold live interactions with audience from time to time to gauge gaps and provide solutions for the same. In case there is an old content that is relevant to the present times, it could be refurbished to address the current needs. There could be lighter moments with contests that increases audience engagement with the brand, acts as a positive reinforcement and at a deeper level, instils a sense of brand loyalty. PR should also involve influencer marketing to get people to actually ‘listen’ in the information clutter, create relatability and eventually, lead to conversions. Brands should create content and host awareness drives to educate consumers and demystify myths proactively, in order to avoid grapevines.
It should be noted that while social media amplifies negative information, it does the same for positive information seeding as well, which should be an assurance to brand managers and PR consultants. At the end of the day, it all boils down to which side of data does one choose to be in…