A Vaccination Against Misinformation

Misinformation spreads rapidly and has been shown to take root in the digital landscape. We’ve realized the damage misinformation caused to public trust through a distortion of how people perceived the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What Does this Mean for Your Pharma Brands?


For an industry that depends on ‘fair balance’, it can be difficult to figure out how to combat damaging messages of misinformation*. The public is generally more compelled to engage with the extreme messaging of misinformation than more balanced forms of communication. On top of that, pharma companies have to compete with the speed of social media. While you are taking the time to build a bulletproof response, misinformation is spreading.

While you may not be able to beat misinformation to the punch, with the right preparation, your brand can LEAD the conversation.

*What is misinformation? The term misinformation refers to false information spread without intent to harm. The term disinformation refers to false information spread with intent to harm. We use misinformation here to mean any false or misleading information spread to the public, regardless of intent.

How Does Your Brand Get Ahead of the Game?


You have to LEAD the conversation:

Learn More About Your Audience

Everyone has a different level of susceptibility to misinformation. Understanding the factors below can help you gauge how likely your audience is to believe or share misinformation.


In general, adults over 65 are at a higher risk for believing and/or sharing misinformation within their networks. This is likely due to this age group’s unfamiliarity with digital platforms. A lack of digital awareness might make them less able to distinguish between news, advertisements, and manipulated content.

Media diet

Where is your audience consuming news? The general trend is that people who get their news primarily from social media tend to be less knowledgeable and more exposed to misinformation.

Literacy levels

Health literacy is the ability to obtain, understand and act upon health-related information. Low levels of health literacy—as well as low levels of digital literacy, media literacy, and science literacy are—associated with higher rates of susceptibility to misinformation.


Through social listening, you can get an idea of who your audience engages with online and what messages they share. This reveals who they trust; their thoughts and feelings about different topics, and (possibly) their past experience with the health system. This sentiment creates a lens through which they read, process, and share online information, regardless of its credibility.

Cognitive styles

Researchers believe we all fall along a spectrum of being intuitive or reflective thinkers. The Cognitive Reflection Test helps identify reflective thinkers through a series of questions. Answers that appear correct upon first glance are given an “intuitive” score, while answers that appear correct upon deeper examination are given a “reflective” score. Research shows that people who tend to be more reflective, taking their time to digest and analyze content, are less vulnerable to misinformation.

Are you intuitive or reflective? Here is an example of a question on the Cognitive Reflection Test: A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? (Correct response = 5 cents; Intuitive response = 10 cents)


Explore The Extent Of Misinformation In Your Space

Misinformation can take many forms and it isn’t always easy to recognize. It may be 100% false content or it may be an image altered to change its entire meaning. The following are examples of more stealth forms of misinformation:

Information could be presented with headlines or images that don’t match the content.

It could present only part of a quote or show images out of scale.

It could be impersonating a credible, well-recognized source.

It could be real content shared out of context.

It could be photoshopped or altered in some way.

Adapt And Prepare Communications To Build Trust


Our work has proven time and time again that it matters not just what you communicate but how you communicate. Each audience has a specific need that your content can meet. By adapting and preparing content in advance you will have already formed a connection with your audience before misinformation strikes.

Content that sticks

Misinformation rises to the top and circulates quickly for a reason. You have access to many of the same weapons that make misinformation “sticky”:

  • It taps into values and beliefs
  • It resonates with its audience
  • It is noticeable & important
  • It is highly visual
  • It is personalized
  • It is easy to read and follow
  • It repeats the main message several times
  • It utilizes storytelling
  • It follows the right algorithm*
  • It sounds reasonable
  • It covers polarizing topics

Content that motivates and drives action

Behavior models can teach you what your audience needs in order to take action. Social norms and self-efficacy are two behavioral tools that are recommended for combating misinformation. Establishing norms makes people feel like they are doing what everyone else does or what everyone else expects them to do. Self-efficacy gives them the confidence to take action.

Content that meets them where they are

Different audiences will have different levels of literacy and different preferences when it comes to learning. Understanding this about your audience, and speaking to those needs, will make your content more engaging and applicable.

*Algorithms are unique sets of rules that determine which content makes it to the top of a user's search engine or social media feed. When content developers know the algorithm and create content that plays by the algorithm’s “rules”, it has a much broader reach.


Detect Information Voids Before They Become Harmful

The absence of credible information available to the public about a certain subject is called an information or keyword void. This void creates an opportunity for inaccurate, untrustworthy information to rise to the top of search engines.

Identify keywords relevant to the subject

Think about what questions or words your audience might be searching for

Perform systematic searches using the keywords

Where is your audience searching? Run each keyword through the search engines or websites and see what the first page of results offers. Are they accurate? Credible?

Identify gaps where credible, accurate information is not highly rated or visible

If the first page of results for any search term contains a niche, inaccurate, or untrustworthy source or item of content, this is an information void

Develop a plan to fill the gaps

Anywhere you see a void, develop a plan to create or support credible content that can replace the inaccurate information


Take the LEAD

By not preparing for outbreaks of misinformation you will always be forced to react. Instead of taking a back seat, why not take the LEAD? LEADing will not stop misinformation from infiltrating the digital space, but it will allow you to challenge its reach and gain your audience’s trust.

By not preparing for outbreaks of misinformation you will always be forced to react. Instead of taking a back seat, why not take the LEAD? LEADing will not stop misinformation from infiltrating the digital space, but it will allow you to challenge its reach and gain your audience’s trust.

Please contact your Account leads or ross.quinn@fcb.com if you have any questions or would like to discuss any of the above.