Skip to main content
Commsy creative stuff straight to your inbox


Building trust in an era of fake news

< Blog home

Building trust in an era of fake news

How to bust the myths and ensure employees do the right thing.

Fake news remains as rife as ever. Over the last few months, we’ve seen everything from conspiracy theories about 5G masts through to recent unfounded reports of hand sanitiser combusting when left in hot vehicles.

And back in January …

“the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that despite a strong global economy and near full employment, none of the four societal institutions that the study measures—government, business, NGOs and media—is trusted.”

This toxic combination of fake news and low levels of trust have resulted in worrying scenes of people descending on beaches in their thousands, ignoring social distancing advice set out by the government. And you could argue why wouldn’t they, when they no longer know who or what to believe.

However, a further piece of research conducted by Edelman in March 2020 found that after health authorities, employers were most trusted to respond effectively to the pandemic.

This is hugely encouraging, especially as employees begin to return to their places of work. It’s never been more important that people follow the measures we put in place for their safety and trust that the advice their employers are giving is right.

The consequences of non-compliance could be not only be disastrous for the health of our employees but the viability of the businesses we work for. One confirmed case of Covid-19 could result in a whole team having to self-isolate – far from ideal if your employees aren’t able to do their jobs from home.

So, as internal communicators, how do we ensure that our messaging is understood and trusted against a backdrop of fake news and conspiracy theories?


Create a single source of truth

Many internal communications teams have been doing this since lockdown began – creating the one place that employees know contains up to date, accurate information. Identify which of your channels are the most trusted and ensure that as employees return to their places of work, they have access to this, and it’s updated regularly.

It’s also important to ensure there’s alignment. Leaders and managers need to be aware of the key messages and reiterate them, being careful to not contradict or confuse their teams. They also need to be conscious of sharing any external sources that haven’t been fact checked or responding to questions if they’re not sure of the correct answer. And remember, where different countries have different guidelines communication will need to be localised – often one message will not be suitable for all.

However, a single source of truth will only work during a situation like the one we currently find ourselves in if employees already trust the communications they receive/have access to. Creating a dedicated site or having a chosen spokesperson is all well and good but if trust was already lacking inside your organisation, that won’t change overnight.

Building and retaining trust should be a key part of the way we communicate always, not just in times of crisis.


Have empathy

Employees are more likely to trust that organisations are fully prepared for their return to the workplace and that the communication they receive is accurate, if they feel understood. This means showing empathy when communicating, remembering that while we’ve all lived through this pandemic, individual experiences of it are very different.

Hopefully your leaders have been visible throughout the last few months and it’s important this continues as we begin to move towards a new ‘normal’. Not only will people want to hear from them, but they’ll want to see them walking the walk too.

Encourage leaders to acknowledge that people may have differing feelings about coming back. Some will have concerns about their own health, be grieving for loved ones or still trying to manage home schooling, whereas others might be eager to return, having spent much of lockdown on their own or in challenging circumstances (or they just don’t like homeworking). Leaders can also share their own experiences and what they’ve found challenging, making them more relatable and trustworthy.


Share the why

It’s important to remember that return to workplace conversations have been going on for some time with key stakeholder groups but employees won’t have been party to these. Don’t just communicate what will happen but why those decisions have been made to help employees trust that they are the right decisions.

For example, certain decisions may have been mandated by government or been made to factor in the way some employees need to work to do their jobs effectively.

Provide as much information as you can as soon as you have it, while keeping it clear and simple, about how the process will work and be willing to take on feedback and consider individual circumstances.

Sharing the ‘why’ is key to building trust and bringing people along with you.


Share stories

If you’re having a phased return to your workplaces, tell stories from some of the first people back. This will help others begin to visualise what it will be like and trust that the right decisions have been made and the correct precautions are in place.

Remember to share some of the challenges and what’s been learnt from going through the process and how you’ve adapted based on feedback. This will ensure the stories are authentic and more likely to be trusted.

As much as people want to hear from leadership, they are also more likely to trust people like them who are doing similar roles or working in similar environments. In his book Inside the Nudge Unit, David Halpern talks about the EAST model, a framework created to help people apply nudge theory. The Social element of the model talks about how we are very influenced by those around us.

For example, even if we know wearing a mask is a good thing to do, if no one else is, we’re less likely to do it. That’s why storytelling can be so powerful in encouraging the right behaviours by demonstrating others following good practice.

The next few weeks and months will be critical for business as we begin to get used to our new reality. Internal communicators have a big role to play in maintaining trust and ensuring that employees are not only informed but demonstrate the right behaviours.

And to be clear, they have a role to play, not the role. As always internal comms is integral, but the overall success will be the cumulation of cross team collaboration and recognition of the value each department brings. So, let’s ensure that our colleagues are in no doubt about the impact internal communication has on an organisation, particularly during a crisis.

By Helen Deverell for Alive with Ideas


Further reading 

Want to read more about Nudge? Have a look at our infographic on the EAST framework.

“The guys at Alive understand the complexities of our business which means we don’t need to explain the detail of every project or design piece – they’re already on it, which keeps things moving and delivers the results we need.”

Emily Stoten — Head of Marketing, Selecta

“I feel like they own and care for the project as much as we do! I would not use anyone else for my creative work and think Alive is ahead of the game.”

Jo Hobbs — Communications Manager

“Thanks for all your help. We are delighted with the campaign, both in terms of the creativity and messaging but also the thought taken over the rollout of the materials. All looks absolutely fabulous!”

Sarah Crowdy — Campaign and Media Officer Communications, South East Water

“We went to ‘Alive’ for ideas on how to run a specific employee program in Europe. Alan and his team were brilliant in coming up with fresh, creative and practical approaches. The team took charge and executed brilliantly. We are pleased with the progress made so far and hope to have the same level of partnership and commitment going forward.”

Sobha Varghese — Tata Consultancy Services

“We had the privilege to work with the Alive team. It was our first time to be involved in creating an animation for our patients within paediatrics. The team were approachable, friendly, creative and very accommodating. Your vision for what you want to create, is at all times acknowledged, appreciated and accommodated by the team. They worked effectively and with great passion towards our project and worked not only alongside health professionals but also our patients who really enjoyed the experience of working with the Alive team. It has given our team the confidence and inspiration to do further projects in the future. We highly recommend Alive and their exceptional team.”

DR ELENI ATHANASAKOS, Lead Paediatric Clinical Scientist — NHS Barts Health

“‘The short animation developed in co-production with clinicians and young people is outstanding! Informative, developmentally appropriate, vitally fun and engaging. We are really grateful for the expertise of the Alive with Ideas team for their innovative approach in building children’s health literacy.'”

Kath Evans — Director of Children’s Nursing at Barts Health

“Our mission was to update our brand visuals to better reflect our innovative and forward-thinking organisation. After receiving numerous pitches from different branding agencies, Alive stood out with their clear passion and understanding of our identity and goals. We thoroughly enjoyed working with the Alive Team to create an engaging new brand that we are immensely proud of.”

Lianne Springer — Communications and Engagement Lead

“Alive wowed us during the pitch process and they didn’t stop wowing us throughout the whole project. Every person we worked with at Alive were so friendly, knowledgeable and clearly passionate about what they do. They have worked with us to really understand what we do and have created a new brand and website that really stands out from our competitors. Thank you!”

Louise Burnard, Head of Marketing and Communications UK — Be | Shaping the Future

“I think the team have done such a brilliant job, particularly with responding to our requests. It's one of the best mental health videos I've ever seen. Very proud to be associated with your exemplary work. Thank you so much.”

Dr Anna Batho — Clinical Psychologist – Critical Care, UCLH

“We have worked with Alan, Caroline and the wider Alive With Ideas team for many years. In that time, they have provided a dedicated service that is second to none. We appreciate their attention to detail and creative approach to bringing our brand, communications and stories to life. And would recommend them to anyone looking for creative communications support.”

Georgia Beech — Internal Communications Specialist, Ocado Group

“This is brilliant. I wanted to give my heartfelt thanks to all of the team who worked on this. You all understood exactly what we wanted to communicate and why, and then managed to do it in a way that was far better than anything I could have imagined. I’m a bit choked up to be honest!”

Sarah Wright, Head of Communications and Campaigns — NEA

“Each time I work with the team, I am always stunned at the effort and creativity that goes into each detail and am always eager for the end result. The team is extremely accommodating and always provide a fresh approach to our projects that elevates our communications materials!”

Alana Khaytin, Communications Specialist — Braskem America

“What I really appreciate about Alive is that they work with us as partners, and care as much about getting it right for our patients as we do.”

Sara Langston, Patient Engagement & Marketing Manager — italk

“Alive are unique in how much they deeply listen and invest in you and your ideas. I have not come across a company that listens as much as they do to ensure your needs are understood and met (actually - they always exceed my needs and expectations). Everyone I recommend Alive to has an equally brilliant experience. When you work with Alive, you are not only getting some genius creativity brought into your life, you are also hanging out with some of the best examples of human beings I’ve ever known.”

Steph Tranter, Hybrid Exec Coach & Psychologist —

“Alive helped us create a video of our response to the floods of winter 2019. Our Chief Officer received messages from all round the country praising us for it and was really pleased with both the video and the response to it.”

Alexander Mills, Communications Manager — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“Alive were professional, friendly and great to work with. Most importantly they were creative, helping us to bring an extremely important safety campaign to life.”

Jack Grasby — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“The (Alive) team were able to creatively pull together and document (in just over 2minutes) everything our service has achieved over the last few months, from thousands of prescriptions deliveries to hundreds of phone calls made to the vulnerable. The final product was so powerful and reflective of what our service has and continues to achieve. It couldn’t have been better received within the service – thanks Alive for once again helping us to communicate our vision!’”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire & Rescue

“We worked with the team at Alive to create our staff recognition video.
At a time like this, its never been more important to share the amazing work that our staff have done and continue to do on a daily basis under very difficult circumstances. We wanted to shout about this and recognise that when the time came, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue stepped up to the plate. We didn’t want an ordinary thank you post on social media or a basic email sent out internally, we wanted something special. Enter Alive. ”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“This looks amazing - brought a smile to my face scrolling through it :-)”

Jack Ford, Head of Marketing — streamGO

“Our company is fun, we have great brands, but most importantly we’re all about our people – and I wanted an agency who would understand that and help us bring it to life through our website and other comms. Straight away I felt that Alive ‘got’ us and provided the creative inspiration exactly where we needed it, as well as the technical expertise to deliver a well-functioning website.”

Keren McCarron, Head of Corporate Affairs & Communications — KP Snacks

Thank you so much. Incredible work done at incredible speed by incredible people.
Outstanding work as ever and what a turnaround. As for the concepts – wow. These are that good it would be an insult to describe them as just good. It’s a joke, quite frankly. This is exactly the Alive effect I was after. Right now I feel like I am living in an Alive With Ideas wonderland. Thank you!”

Jack Grasby, Campaigns Manager — SYFR

“If you are looking to improve creativity and build teamwork, I highly recommend a session like this for your team. No matter where you are in your creativity journey, a workshop like this can give your team a boost of energy and ideas to invigorate their creative thinking.”

Amy Lilja, IC Manager — Hennepin Healthcare

“Alive were there to help when we were working every hour to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. They gave us the creativity, ideas and support we needed to deliver campaigns which empowered our residents in the most difficult time most of us have ever seen, personally and professionally. The team understood what we needed, worked closely with us and delivered fast without any compromise on quality. Working with Alive has been a joy in the darkest of times and I have no doubt will have helped to save lives. Thanks team x”

Julie Odams, Assistant Director of Communications & Customers — Derbyshire County Council

“We got 'Alive' involved to help us shift mindsets across our organisation and they delivered! Using simple, clear and creative ideas the team have delivered us a campaign which has seen a dramatic increase in idea sharing and development. They’ve also played a significant role in creating a culture of shared success. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with again, in fact, we already are!”

Gavin Buckle — B&Q
Alive logo