The 2018 Edelman TRUST BAROMETER data are in and, while we’re living through a multi-year decline in public trust across the four sources measured, the NGO sector remains the leader in trusted sources.
This erosion is a symptom of globalization, polarization, attacks on the media, and a general lack of consensus on facts.
The net effects of the current US leadership pushing out terms like alternative facts and #FakeNews have also accelerated distrust in the Government and Media verticals.
Pessimism aside, it’s worth looking at this Edelman study to gain perspective on the larger brand image of the NGO sector. As the data show, for the informed public, trust dropped by 3 points for NGOs. It is difficult to tie direct correlation, but certainly it’s hard to not read that statistic and recall some of the 2017 allegations of sexual misconduct by employees from organizations like Oxfam, Save the Children and the Red Cross or the strong political work of the NRA.
The larger picture that the Edelman research shows is that the general public still views the NGO sector as the most trusted source of information. This is especially important because it is the general public that elects officials.
At Whole Whale, while we don’t deny that there are some major issues in our world today, we’re also inveterate optimists. We continue to believe that we live in the best of times, where global poverty is at an all-time low, and access to information is at historical highs. Despite the tidal wave of distrust across every sector, the silver lining here is that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed person reigns supreme.
The NGO sector remains the most trusted source of facts and information. So the question becomes, how can it better leverage this competitive advantage?
If NGOs are the kings and queens of trust, it’s time to double down on the investment in content. The idea of #FakeNews and distrust means that important information around health, education, unemployment, and the environment are being lost in a sea of finger-pointing. This leaves an awesome opportunity for NGOs to fill this gap in reporting and disseminating trusted information around the issues they cover. We’ve talked about this recently with regards to the Google Ad Grant program, although there is more than one way to fill in the #FakeNews gap through nonprofit and social impact content.
To make this point a bit more tangible, consider some of the following Google autocomplete searches. Autocomplete shows the collective result of trillions of searches that are done and narrowed down by searches across the world. When people want to learn something, they Google it and then let Google’s RankBrain algorithm sort out what they should see as a result, based on myriad factors.
The most pressing question is, who is fighting to answer these questions and win the battle on consensus? Take a minute and explore how people are searching for terms around your cause with this simple and powerful tool:
Content can take many forms, though it’s important to practice journalistic integrity, fact checking, and honest interpretation of source data. As content is created, it’s also critical to consider the Curse of Knowledge. How people are searching around and talking about topics near and dear to your heart may not be how you discuss these causes internally within your organization.
This is especially crucial with Google as how people are phrasing their questions will impact how their results will be shown. Consider this carefully for any planning around SEO. Whole Whale dives deep on this and other factors that can help you rise to the top of search engine results in our course on content marketing for social impact.
Before an investment in content can be made, however, any organization (government or otherwise) needs to recognize that digital content is a core program with corresponding outcomes. At Whole Whale, we call this gap between online resources and offline impact the digital impact chasm. Once this cognitive bridge is built in an organization, the investment in content creation can easily be justified and quantified.
Using content to fill in the #FakeNews gap
Here are some ideas on the types of content that can be created in order to get your creative juices flowing:
- White papers
- Independent surveys (you can run these with tools like Survata)
- Website resources providing well-researched answers to popular questions
- Blog content that can be differentiated from resource content, such as posts illustrating impact
- YouTube videos providing answers to questions, walkthroughs, or a show-don’t-tell approach to illustrating impact
- Educational curricula
- Guides and downloads
- (Fact-checked) News
- Researched lists of facts and statistics
- Clear summaries controversial issues with background and point-counterpoints (Vox Explainers does a great job around this)
There are also many fantastic NGOs that are already practicing this powerful tactic that can be learned from:
- ProCon.org presents both sides of political, cause, and policy issues.
- Kaiser Family Foundation provides original research on Medicaid, Medicare, health reform, global health, HIV/AIDS, health insurance, the uninsured, and much more
- Stanford Social Innovation Review offers leading research and journalism on what is (and isn’t) working in the social impact sector.
- Pew Charitable Trust is an industry leader on reports, surveys on public policy, tech, media, and beyond.
- The Century Foundation is a progressive, nonpartisan think tank that seeks to foster opportunity, reduce inequality, and promote security at home and abroad.
- The Peter G. Peterson Foundation is another nonpartisan research organization that generates content around American fiscal policy.
It’s more important than ever that the nonprofit sector continue to speak truth to power — and be heard while doing it. Good luck!