Fake news is but one of the many things wrong with the Internet that massively influences how people consume media today. And it affects all of us – whether you’re a voter deciding on a candidate or a digital marketer working on next quarter’s marketing strategy.
But is fake news truly a modern phenomenon?
Apparently not. According to the Smithsonian, fake news can be traced to as far back as the invention of the printing press during the 15th century. This innovation enabled the mass production of books, which allowed information to be disseminated more quickly. Thus, the free press was born.
Of course, this meant that *all* kinds of information were free to circulate – including the not-so-reliable ones. Then U.S. President John Adams recognized as such when he wrote, “There has been more new error propagated by the press in the last ten years than in an hundred years before 1798.”
Fast forward to the modern day, and Adams’ words couldn’t be any truer. The hyper-connectivity brought about by the Internet only served to amplify the reach of fake news – up to the point where it overpowered real news and even influenced major elections in the U.S. and the Philippines, among many others.
But there are already a bunch of articles that talk about that. So in this post, we’ll focus on why fake news is such a big deal for marketers. After which I’ll offer some ideas on how we can operate more effectively in the current landscape.
Moving from the Information Age to the Reputation Era
Seth Godin, one of the most prominent thought leaders of this generation, was most notable for coining the term permission marketing, which he defined as “the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal, and relevant messages to people who actually want them.”
This act of asking for permission is a way of gaining the trust of the consumer, which is a crucial element every brand needs in the age of fake news. No matter how much information you put out there for the sake of brand transparency, if your brand doesn’t have reputation to back it up, then you’re talking to the void.
This idea runs parallel to Gloria Origgi’s theory that we’re transitioning from the “information age” to the “reputation age.” As we produce more and more content, people will be more picky of the information they want to consume. Thus, they will filter out which brands are worth their attention and which ones aren’t – and a lot of this decision-making will be based on your reputation.
How can marketers operate effectively in the age of fake news?
Fake news is an issue that is now deeply embedded in the digital landscape. It can take years to significantly lessen its negative effects, but we marketers can already take steps to fight it today.
Here are some ideas on how marketers can operate in the age of fake news:
Tell authentic stories, not templated content.
One issue that is closely related to the proliferation of fake news is the filter bubble. Using existing data, algorithms customize your news feed to show only posts that you are likely to engage with. This creates a “filter bubble” that makes your news feed personalized and unique, but also protects you from views other than your own.
That’s the case with Tide when a satire piece published in 2015 became viral and caused people to start eating the poisonous product. The brand had a difficult time dealing with the bad PR from this trend, that even when the company’s executives released a statement saying that the pods are dangerous, it accounted to nothing.
So how did they solve this problem?
Well, they turned the table by telling their story, one that is more compelling and authentic than the fake news they’re trying to overcome.
They did this in the form of Super Bowl ads where David Harbour – who is known as Jim Hopper in Stranger Things – asks viewers to question every ad they see. Because “if it’s clean, it’s got to be a Tide ad.”
This clever move made people question not only the ads they see, but also Tide’s brand in general. And because of that, I’d say the $15 million-ish that Tide spent on the Super Bowl ads was worth it.
That said, you don’t need to spend millions to be able to tell your own story. As long as you’re using the right channels to make sure your story reaches the right audiences, then your content marketing is good to go.
Don’t rely too much on third-party platforms.
This is a difficult one. Most digital marketers spend a huge amount of time optimizing ads on search engines and social media platforms to gain new customers. Why wouldn’t they? It’d be crazy to not take advantage of the global reach that these platforms offer.
But while these platforms offer a global reach, it comes with a cost. According to Statista, 42% of all traffic from fake news comes from social media. If you depend largely on social media for your digital marketing strategy, then you’re exposing your brand to the serious risk of being associated to fake news sites, which could cause erosion of trust in your brand.
“It will mean little to have record-breaking views if the associated content or channel of choice is controversial, distracting or damaging to brand integrity and position.” CMO Council report
I know it’s unrealistic for most brands to simply cut off their social media campaigns. But for those who are willing to experiment, one suggestion is to double down on email marketing. Because unlike social media, you own the platform that you’ll use to publish your content. You control how your emails will look like, and you don’t have to worry about your content appearing beside fake news content. Your brand integrity is completely in your hands.
Of course, not every brand will be compatible with email marketing strategies. If that’s the case, then you’ll need to make more conscious decisions of the platforms you choose to promote content. Do they regularly update their platform to mitigate the escalation of fake news? Are they transparent with their policies on content, etc.?
As digital marketers, we need to make conscious decisions on the platforms and channels we’re using and make sure we’re using them not because they’re easy, but because they align with the long term goals for our brand.
Fake news can be an obstacle, but it’s also a wake-up call for marketers to start being more mindful of their decisions. We should all take this opportunity to re-think our strategies moving forward.
How about you? What are your thoughts on the effect of the fake news phenomenon in the marketing industry? Let me know in the comments section below!