4 Steps for Battling Misinformation During a Pandemic

Overcome the challenge of misinformation in your school district by applying these steps to your communication strategies.

 

Picture of laptop computerA Changing World

As the impact of COVID-19 continues to be a part of 2021 effective and clear communication is essential to sharing crucial information. Without a doubt, 2020 was full of fluctuating, and at many points, inconsistent communication. In a world of interconnected platforms, finding accurate and informative information can be a challenge. Adapting to the impacts of COVID-19 and the dynamic information that comes with these changes, require careful evaluation. Unfortunately, in a changing sea of information and shifting tides, it can be difficult for audiences to establish what information is true and who to trust.

 

As a result, this overload of sometimes conflicting information can lead to misinformation. As more students return to campus for in-person learning, now, more than ever, COVID-19 information and procedures continue to be essential for families, employees, and schools, underscoring the effectiveness and essential nature of communication strategies and stakeholder relationships.  Misinformation has been a part of navigating through this pandemic. But is this an inescapable challenge for school districts, or are there methods to combat the effects of miscommunication?

 

Taking a Closer Look at Misinformation

First, what is misinformation in terms of mass communication? On its face, yes, it is false and inaccurate information however it does not have to be intentionally malicious. Misinformation is sharing content regardless of fully knowing its accuracy or impact. Sadly, sometimes misinformation happens organically in trying to navigate sharing information during a pandemic. When individuals are desperate for details, information is often complicated, and the stakes are high. The purpose of sharing information is to keep individuals informed on what is true so they can be aware of changes and safety procedures that impact their lives. When there is a breakaway from the truth, this breaks down the relationship and trust school districts have worked so hard to develop. Confusing information, rumors, and even simply inconsistent terms causes breakdown of understanding between school districts and the individuals depending on them.

 

Taking a Step Back

It is clear that misinformation can have detrimental effects. While there will always be a risk that misinformation will occur, there are methods for both minimizing and combating its effect. Ultimately, it is not about battling misinformation head-on with opposing messaging, but looking at the bigger picture to evaluate the best way to respond and engage. Having steps and a process in place for misinformation strategies can help prompt a positive and clear relationship with your school district and your audience. With that being said, let’s explore four steps for battling misinformation during a pandemic.

1. Find Out Why

Identify the Issue

An essential first step in considering misinformation is determining why it occurred. In order to solve a problem, it is first necessary to know what the problem is. If misinformation has spread within a school district the first step to combat the issue is understanding the source and the cause. This will not only help in solving the immediate issue but can help prevent future similar problems. 

  • Was the information not clear?
  • Were individuals experiencing information overload?
  • Did people get trapped into group thinking without checking factual information?
  • Were stakeholders not involved in key phases of the process, such as providing input before major decisions?

 

Insightful Responses 

Now that the source is identified it is essential to understand why it occurred and why people believe it. Looking at messaging from the audience’s perspective works to create effective details that the audience wants to know in order to combat the problem. Knowing why individuals believe false information will help in creating messaging that most effectively addresses the confusion. 

  • Empathy is key in problem-solving. Evaluate the information from each stakeholder’s perspective: families, teachers, staff, administrators, students. 
  • What is the issue that faces them and what is the most essential truth they need to know in order to fix the issue? Instead of just sharing opposing information it is better to create messaging that meets and audience where they are at and guide them through the information that will help them get back to the truth.

2. This is Not a New Problem

After a year of being in the pandemic, there is a great need for accurate and truthful information to draw from. However, misinformation is not a new problem. The pandemic has brought to light the need for valuable and trustworthy sources of information. In a world of false information and fake news, consistency and accuracy are needed in developing audience trust. Techniques for dealing with misinformation can happen in a variety of settings. Even though misinformation is sometimes unforeseeable and thus unavoidable what are ways to proactively prepare for misinformation situations? 

  • Parents, teachers, and students look to your district as a reliable source of information. Providing reliable, trustworthy, consistent, and quality content is the way school districts can build the trust of their audiences. 
  • When families, staff, teachers, and students already have a sense of trust in your district, they will look to you as a source of reliable information in moments of confusion and uncertainty. Create and maintain relationships through clear communication. This is essential to plant an anchor in navigating situations and communications related to the pandemic. 

3. Establish a Compelling Narrative – Maintain Trust

Creating clear and consistent messaging is essential in repairing a breakdown in communication. Managing something as complicated as communication during a pandemic can be improved through developing key messages and a compelling narrative. An essential part of developing connection through messages is making sure there is a story. A key difference between information and a story is empathy. Consider your reader and the best way to walk them through the message you want to present to them. Trust is more than just sharing information; it is building relationships. Relationships are best built through stories and clear narratives. Make sure your district’s story works to give a clear message arc. Take the hand of the reader and walk them through where the information is now to where it should be. Creating compelling narratives is what heals the separation misinformation causes.

4. Bring Value Through Accountability

Ultimately, battling misinformation comes from clear consistent communication and puts audience connection at the center. 

  • Accountable communication driven by integrity demonstrates value. Using consistent terms to organize information brings clarity. 
  • When working to repair a break in communication from misinformation it is important information is presented in a way that not only is accurate. Defining terms and using them are constantly just one example. Addressing specific concerns and sharing clear information can help build trust again with families and students. 
  • Uniform visuals work to keep information accessible when there is conflicting information or confusion. Organizing visuals with consistent terminology and designs help demonstrate quality communication. 
  • Ensure your district and its schools are communicating in one clear voice: Provide talking points to your board members, administrators, principals, and other key communicators so that they can provide the same, consistent responses to questions from your stakeholders.  The more people receive those consistent messages from your key communicators, the most trust they have in your communications.

Credibility is built on consistency and accurate information. When integrity is at the center of communication, your audiences’ trust will follow. 

For more inspiration on battling misinformation during the pandemic, you can visit The Drum’s website and read “How do you solve problem misinformation during a pandemic”. Misinformation is a problem during not only the pandemic but in other situations. Knowing how to effectively, clearly, and thoughtfully combat false information is essential for not only sharing the truth but repairing and maintaining the relationships of the school district.

Need help battling misinformation?

If you feel like you are already overwhelmed with managing your school district Sounding Board Marketing and Communications can provide strategic services to assist in communication. For more information visit strategic services and sign up for a 30-minute evaluation. Misinformation has become a growing issue to overcome. Clear communication to establish trust is not only possible but attainable for school districts. Ultimately, clear and trustworthy communication works to battle misinformation during the pandemic and beyond.

 

About Heather McGowan

Heather McGowan increases public confidence in public education and improves opportunities for non-profit organizations to succeed through proactive communication and marketing. She provides strategic marketing and communication services that exceed her clients’ unique goals and delivers results that motivate audiences to act, change, and/or otherwise change behaviors for a greater good.

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