Public relations messages should be persuasive to the public (Wilcox et al. 2013); how could a message backed by unreliable, untrustworthy, unsubstantiated and inaccurate research possibly be persuasive? With information from a wide range of sources readily available in today’s increasingly digital world, it is of great importance that public relations (PR) campaigns are based on reliable, credible, substantiated and accurate information.
With the PR industry being an important actor in society and in the democratic process (Larsson 2007), it is important for PR professionals to be trusted by their audience – the general public and in particular, their target market. With the PR industry so heavily associated with creating trust, building relationships and communicating clear messages to the audience, it is vital that information being communicated comes from reliable, credible, substantiated and accurate sources.
As illustrated below, information found online is not necessarily factual. In fact, the internet is a public forum where almost anyone, anywhere with a computer connected to the internet, can post their thoughts, opinions and ideas for potential global consumption (James 2007).
Image 1 (Source: TechieTeacher5280 2011)
According to the Harvard College Writing Program (2015), these are some issues to consider when deciding what information is safe to use:
- Author of the website – Including their qualifications, credentials, scope and purpose for publishing the information.
- Accuracy and objectivity of the website – Whether the factual information can be verified elsewhere, whether any bias may exist.
- Timely sources – Is there a creation date listed? Are the resources current or outdated?
As a general rule of thumb, sites to avoid for research purposes requiring factual information include blog posts, personal websites and Wiki sites, as these types of sources can be added by almost anyone!
Harvard College Writing Program 2015, ‘Evaluating Web Sources’, viewed 15 April 2015, http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k70847&pageid=icb.page346375
James 2007, ‘A review of the impact of new media on public relations: Challenges for terrain, practice and eduction’, Asia Pacific Public Relations Journal, vol. 8, no. 1, viewed 12 April 2015, http://www.pria.com.au/sitebuilder/forms/forms/file/34-174/Melanie%20James%20article%20Asia%20Pacific%20PR%20Journal.pdf
Larsson, L 2007, ‘Public Trust in the PR industry and its actors’, Journal of Communication Management, vol. 11, no. 2, viewed 11 April 2015, http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1108/13632540710780210
TechieTeacher5280 2011, Evaluating Websites, viewed 11 April 2015, http://techieteacher5280.blogspot.com.au/2011/12/evaluating-websites.html
Wilcox, DL, Cameron, GT, Reber, BH & Shin, JH 2013, Think: Public Relations, Pearson Education, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.