February 8, 2017
It's debatable whether the internet was designed to enable the free flow of truthful and useful information, but it's safe to say that this should be our desire. However, it's very clear that the internet has increased the power of divisive speech, hyperbole, and false information. Debating the internet's benefits and drawbacks will continue for quite some time, maybe for as long as humans exist. So, we won't tackle the broader question here, but we should respond to the rise of "fake news."
The Lure of Fabricated Facts - It's very difficult for well-researched information to compete with fiction, because fiction can always be fabricated to be more eye catching, more polarizing, and more effective in playing on our fears and advancing a specific agenda. And what may even be more disturbing is that some people are applying the term fake news to information simply because it doesn't align with their own beliefs or ideologies. In other words, if I don't agree, it must be false. This behavior is troubling independent of a person's ideological or political leanings.
Utilities Combating Erroneous Information - Utilities have been dealing with inaccurate information for quite some time, often presented by gadflies and opponents during public-policy meetings. Unfortunately, the squeaky wheels affect policy decisions more often than utility managers like to admit. During our work with utilities on branding, we have learned that part of the problem is how difficult it is for utilities to get people's attention and create transparency.
The Transparency Gap - Even though utilities provide quite a bit of information, and utility managers make every effort to ensure their facts are correct, it is still difficult and time consuming for people to evaluate the utility's decisions and accomplishments. This means that most people, including elected officials and influential community leaders, have not formulated an accurate opinion of the utility's performance. This state-of-affairs allows faulty facts and ideologies to gain traction. Furthermore, recent trends related to fake news may embolden those who have no interest in facts and wish only to advance preconceived notions about the effectiveness and efficiency of public agencies.
Creating Unassailable Content - Although branding is often categorized as spin, great brands provide compelling value to their customers. And the branding tactics being advanced by Resource Trends and the Utility Branding Network are designed to reduce confusion and increase transparency. The foundation for these tactics is providing superior customer service, and realizing that customers are also shareholders and investors in the utility's resources and infrastructure. Treating audiences like shareholders involves communicating the utility's standards, producing compelling arguments for investment, and creating content that makes it easy for community leaders to be informed. Although no information is completely indisputable, we undeniably live in world where it makes sense to do a better job of being factual, clear, and compelling.