The "fake news" trend isn't going away anytime soon. Perhaps as a result, trust in media outlets is at an all-time low. In fact, when survey participants were asked to rate their trust in media from a low of zero to a high of 100, the average response was a measly 37.

In this climate, businesses are struggling to spread an authentic message and connect with their audiences because they're being viewed skeptically as well. Forty-two percent of Americans surveyed believe brands and companies aren't as truthful as they were 20 years ago. It will be a long road for brands to gain back the public trust, but these steps will be integral along the way.

1. Maintain transparency with affiliate relationships.

An affiliate program is one of the best ways to bring your product to a new audience via authentic reviews, but it's important to mention these relationships upfront to combat the prevalence of disingenuous recommendations.

Robert Glazer, affiliate marketing expert and founder/managing director of Acceleration Partners, sees this as an essential element of a successful program. In his book Performance Partnerships, Glazer discusses why it's imperative to be open with your audience: "The early years of affiliate marketing were plagued by a lack of transparency," he explains. "A lot of large affiliates refused to disclose their tactics. They claimed that this was for proprietary reasons, but it's clear that a lack of transparency increases the chances of questionable, or even fraudulent, behavior."

Failing to disclose affiliate relationships is no longer just a shady marketing tactic, it's actually illegal -- and has been since a Federal Trade Commission ruling in 2006.

2. Respond to fake news promptly.

In August of last year, Starbucks found itself racing to respond to a fake tweet that promised discounted coffee to undocumented migrants in the U.S. Using the hashtag #borderfreecoffee, combined with Starbucks' signature font and the company logo, the "Dreamer Day" hoax caught the brand completely off guard.

To prevent the misinformed movement from getting in the way of business, Starbucks responded to individuals on Twitter and verified the advertisement was fabricated.

3. Separate your brand from entities spreading false information.

Facebook and Google might share around 85 percent of all digital ad revenue, but they can still take a hit, especially from a giant such as Unilever. The company's chief marketing officer, Keith Weed, pointed to toxic content spread by the tech giants, saying Unilever would pull a substantial $2 billion in online ad spending if the situation wasn't rectified.

While the loss in revenue from a single company isn't much for Facebook or Google in the grand scheme of things, it sends a powerful message -- one other companies could get behind.

4. Admit fault when you drop the ball.

Yours isn't the first business to make a mistake, but while many make them, far fewer actually own up to them. Standing out from the crowd begins by apologizing and admitting you fell short of expectations -- and concludes with explaining how you'll make it right.

It only took two tweets for Apple to apologize to music artists after saying it wouldn't pay them during the free-trial period of Apple Music customers. Lawrence Tanenbaum, chairman of the board of the Toronto Maple Leafs, used far more than 140 characters in his apology letter to fans after a dismal season, but the message contained the same key ingredients -- an acknowledgment that a problem existed and the assurance that it was being addressed as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

Trust in media might be at an all-time low, but that doesn't mean your customer engagement has to be. By taking certain precautions, such as maintaining transparency in your advertising and distancing your company from misinformation, you can actually gain customer trust at a time when it's in short supply. Finally, a surefire way to lose that trust is to try and cover it up when you make a mistake. Even if you think an error will go unnoticed, making public apologies for transgressions is always a better course of action. Over time, your brand will come to be associated with a high degree of integrity that can weather any storm.

Published on: Mar 13, 2018