Misinformation is on the rise
On a positive note, social media and a more global society means more people are now joining the debate on scientific topics. On the other hand, skepticism towards topics such as vaccination and global warming has grown over the past 15 years. All the time spent on research and development of a product or service could be jeopardised if misconceptions deter people from trusting your company. When a scientific topic is seen as controversial in media, it can also lead to a decrease in trust of science overall. Scientist and Life Science entrepreneurs can help avoid this by clearly communicating their findings and perhaps more importantly, providing a version of their publications that is easy to interpret for non scientists. This post will address key ways that misinformation can be tackled to give your Life Science company the best platform to stand on.
How is misinformation started and spread?
False statements spread much faster and to more people than true statements. However, they also fade faster according to a study of 126.000 rumors spread on Twitter since its launch. Misinformation often plays on common fears or have a novelty factor that make them compelling to spread. It is important to start by considering why the false information is appealing before preparing a rebuttal. False information is typically spread either because the writer has misunderstood the existing facts or have their own agenda.
This is one of the most common forms of mis information and is often based on logical fallacies. A logical fallacy happens when a part of the logical chain is not factually accurate which leads to inaccurate conclusions. It is important to understand that a person might misunderstand your product or service because they are lacking a key piece of information about something besides your company. For example, if you offer a vaccination for measles and people are not familiar with the concept of herd immunity, they might decide not to vaccinate based on the misconception of no risk.
A way to address these and other misunderstood facts is inoculation theory. This involves three steps; understanding what the is confusion is (also called the myth), briefly explaining why the myth is incorrect and lastly provide the true fact in a more compelling way. When addressing the myth, it is key to prime the subject to the fact that they are about to hear a myth. This makes them more susceptible to rejecting it. In essence, we are trying to make the truth sticker than the myth.
Besides having the correct facts, communicating in a warm and patient manner is the most effective way of winning people over in the long run. People do not like to be wrong, especially in public. Addressing the issue from an understanding perspective therefore has more impact.
Companies with alternate agendas
If the information is falsely spread on purpose, such as a company doing their own research and presenting cherry picked facts, it is crucial to expose the underlying interest of the source and explain how they benefit. According to a study of 526 people’s perception of research, trust in the result of a study decreased when they saw the association with a corporation with vested interests (see figure below).
It is not uncommon for both of these scenarios to take place simultaneously. If a company presents poorly executed research, misunderstandings are bound to happen and spread. In this case, addressing the underlying cause can be more effective. How you bring this up and on what platforms can make a big difference to the outcome. It is important to avoid a public shouting match on social media.
Why is branding the solution?
Branding in its essence is strategy joining forces with clear messaging.
Targeting is key
You can see branding as a way to accurately reflect what your company does and what it stands for. This means branding has to be targeted. If your goal is to sell a device to dentists, you can assume they have a certain level of scientific understanding. This will affect your messaging strategy. Targeting helps you narrow down the people you address but also where to find them which leads on to our next tip.
Choose the right arena
Different platforms carry different “trust weight”, meaning that dentists will listen more to advice coming from the British Dental Association compared to Twitter. This can help you focus by avoiding to spend time on platforms and forums that are not associated with trust. Addressing concerns from people outside your target audience on these platforms could even harm your brand. Pick a few places that are inherently trusted and look for genuine questions or misunderstandings to address.
If your target audience is part of the consumer market, it is still worth defining facts about your audience such as age, education level and family situation to help understand their point of view better. As a general rule, helpful and patient advice goes a long way.
How do you avoid giving the impression of a hidden agenda?
The last thing you want is for your public statements to be seen as disingenuous. Think cigarettes in the 70s trying to smooth over cancer warnings. The best way to prevent this is to avoid selling and informing at the same time and to partner with organisations people trust. Here is where it is worth really understanding your audience. If you want to help young parents feel more comfortable vaccinating their children, look in to health organisations with a high proportion of support from young couples. Other trusted sources could be Paediatricians they have met during the pregnancy or parental networks. Reach out to these organisations, explain your goal and see if there is a way to partner up. Social studies have shown that people do not always change their opinions but they are fast to follow cultural trends. For example, people’s opinions of gay marriage did not significantly change after the US made it possible for same sex couples to get married, however, fewer people acted against same sex marriage after the law passed. Hosting an event such as a marathon for vaccination awareness indicates to people that the public agrees with the mission and can lead to a change in behaviour. If the event generates press or even activity on social media from participants, the message is now conveyed by influencers and not your company. Done right, this is a way to both build trust and generate awareness.
If your company is based in the US, where prescription drugs can be advertised, building trust is even more crucial. With high competition and proportion of companies advertising exaggerations or leaving out important information in their ads, being honest and transparent is the only way to build brand loyalty.
Tracking your progress:
Measuring public opinion is notoriously difficult, but setting up clear metrics from the start can help you learn which of your strategies are working the best.
Google is one of the few places where people ask what is on their mind without censoring themselves. This means Google search data is a good source of public opinion and can be accessed through Google Keyword search.
Despite being a powerful tool, it is not sensitive enough to detect changes in a local area or over a short amount of time. It can however help you track changes on a domestic level over a few years. Choosing the right keywords is essential. If in doubt, read this guide on ideal keywords.
If you are using social media, a common strategy is to look at the engagement to comment ratio. The assumption is that a posts with high engagement, such as likes and shares, is perceived positively. A post with a high volume of comments on the other hand is typically a sign of disagreement. This is not an exact science, but seeing how this changes over time can indicate how the campaign is received.
If you are hosting an event, listening to feedback from the day and through follow up emails or calls can be a great source of quality answers. Encouraging the use of a custom hashtag can help you track the conversation both before, during and after an event.
Still curious about what makes people change their mind, listen to this intriguing episode of Hidden brain about a social scientist setting out to decrease the hatred between groups in Rwanda.
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