In Blog, How to

United Airlines should stick with flying and leave the chicken nuggets to fast-food restaurants like Wendy’s.

The U.S. airline tried to jump on the success of a Wendy’s social media campaign last month where Wendy’s was giving a teenager a year’s supply of chicken nuggets if he could get 18 million Twitter retweets. United, seemingly out of nowhere, offered to fly the teenager anywhere in the world where a Wendy’s was located if he succeeded.

The stunt backfired. The airline was still recovering from its recent PR disaster where security guards dragged a passenger off of an overbooked flight. Media, including Mashable and People, highlighted the many Twitter posts criticizing United for jumping on the bandwagon. “How many retweets to not get assaulted by you on my next flight,” one Twitter user asked United.

United was looking for cheap and easy clicks and instead they dug themselves deeper into a hole, hurting their reputation even more.

Fake News
Readers are savvier than ever and they’re trusting companies, the government and media less and less. In fact, trust in all three institutions fell from last year, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer annual survey. The term “fake news” continues to dog the media after months of prominence during the U.S. Presidential campaign. The White House even invented the expression “alternative facts” to defend President Donald Trump’s false statement about his inauguration attendance.

Interestingly, Cision’s 2017 State of the Media Report states that corporate brands are more trusted today than either the government or the media. Journalists also told Cision that press releases are the single most valuable resource for them.

The question arises how we, as PR professionals, can protect and improve our company’s credibility in what has been dubbed the “Post-Truth Era”. Here are four principles that we should never compromise:

  • Fact-Check. Press releases and other public statements, including images, videos, data and social media posts need to be accurate. This is non-negotiable. All media- and customer-facing messaging must be fact-checked.
  • Back Up Your Claims. Always back up the claims within your press release by citing your sources and using easy-to-follow data. You should also provide links and additional data points at the bottom of your release, so journalists can vet its credibility, as well as utilize the data in their stories.
  • Provide Real News. You should only send out press releases when you have real news to share. Otherwise you risk losing your credibility for sending out announcements that don’t offer any value. Before writing a press release, you have to ask yourself: “Why are we even writing this press release?”, “Is this actually news?” and “Why should anyone care?”
  • Remain Consistent and Relevant. As a small- or medium-sized company struggling to find an audience, there’s no better way to gain trust than to have consistent, strong and honest messaging as a cornerstone of your company’s press release strategy. Also, your press releases or social media posts need to be relevant to your audience – and reinforce your company’s strategy.

Press releases should follow the four principles above, and it starts with accurate, fact-based press releases that offer real and credible news. That messaging should carry over to the rest of your company’s media playbook, whether it be talking points to the press, marketing material, or social media posts.

You shouldn’t expect that posting something on Twitter without vetting the credibility of the content or knowing how it fits into your company’s overall strategy will make you look more genuine or approachable.

PR Mess
United’s chicken nugget post was so disconnected from point No. 4 above — Remain Consistent and Relevant — that the Tweet backfired. Customers want safe, efficient and affordable air travel. Chicken nuggets have nothing to do with any of those principles or even United’s new message of treating customers with “dignity and respect” in the wake of the passenger-dragging incident.

One Twitter user gave the airline some advice: United is going to “have to get more than 18 million RTs to clean up this PR mess.”

What are your golden rules to protect and improve your company’s credibility? Let us know in the comments section below.

Alex Armitage is co-founder and CEO of Publiqly, whose Workflows help small and mid-sized companies write press releases that journalists and bloggers can’t ignore. Were you forwarded this post? Sign up to receive our weekly press release lessons directly in your inbox.

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