Writers know how easy it is to lose credibility.
A single typo, misattribution, white lie or poorly executed joke can damage your reputation. Unfortunately, communicators carry this burden for the companies and clients they work for. A gaffe gone wild can produce cascading consequences well beyond your personal brand.
There are many obvious ways to squander credibility, such as through sloppy writing, misleading statements or offensive tweets. Here are four more subtle ways communicators can keep from diminishing trust, respect and goodwill:
1. Steer clear of shameless pandering.
Where does PR end and pandering begin? It’s a nebulous line at times, but for the sake of your reputation—and your company’s reputation—do try to find it.
Lack of pandering awareness is how the Pepsi ad got made. It’s a major reason why we view politicians as phony, vapid purveyors of snake oil who will do or say anything for votes. The proliferation of mindless pandering is why this skit is so funny:
To avoid crossing into pandering territory, listen to the people you’re trying to reach. Talk to them before crafting your message. Gather their feedback and incorporate it into your messaging. Ask people if something could be construed as offensive, demeaning or tone-deaf. Don’t insult people’s intelligence.
Also, please, if you’re in Alabama, don’t assume everyone wants to hear, “Roll Tide!”
2. Don’t ignore obvious elephants.
Everything’s fine; nothing to see here!
Ignoring major news makes it seem that you have something to hide or that perhaps you’re too craven to offer an opinion. You lose credibility when you try to pull the wool or play the waiting game until something blows over. Handling matters in a forthright, direct, transparent manner, however, can earn respect.
If change is afoot, get out in front of it, and communicate clearly what’s happening. If not, the rumor mill will be happy to churn out various conspiracy theories.
3. Don’t exaggerate accomplishments.
Puffery is rarely effective or helpful.
I recently drove past a billboard in which a major grocery chain touted a “$1 million donation” to a local food bank. The tacky, self-aggrandizing nature of the announcement soured the altruism. What was meant to increase good vibes and boost PR was undercut by poor message execution.
In the same way, communicators run the risk of losing trust and goodwill by overstating the significance of certain events. You see this all the time in corporate PR—especially when it comes to CSR initiatives. Feel free to highlight your volunteer work; just go easy on regaling the lifesaving heroism of your trash cleanup. Also, don’t forget to humanize beneficiaries if you’re helping people out.
Of course, this applies to work-related accomplishments, too. Tooting the company horn too frequently and effusively can turn you into the communicator who cried wolf. Exaggeration—even slightly imprecise language—can come back to bite your credibility.
4. Practice what you preach.
Shouldn’t your PR agency use the same marketing, writing and social media tactics you sell to clients?
Do your internal communication strategies mirror what you do externally?
Why would anyone buy something from you if you don’t do what you recommend they do?
If you preach brevity, write concisely. If you tout the importance of email marketing, blogging and posting on social media three times a day, you lose credibility if you neglect these things.
Practice what you preach, and keep your communication credibility intact.