The rise of fake news

Until just a few years ago, the traditional way of news and information consumption was heavily reliant on journalists and news channels. Now when people are asked ‘where do you for your news’, the answer is quite different- Facebook has become a source for news and information. We get updated on the latest happenings via Facebook posts or from other social media channels. The crux of most social media channels is user generated content. Most brands and people create enticing content for social and aim to get seen by collecting the maximum number of likes and shares on their posts. In order to do so, posters/brands may use unethical techniques to make that content exciting so that their campaigns go viral. Many times, creators take the support of not so authentic or somewhat fake news to gain popularity acting as click bait for easy profits. This practice has led to more and more sources on the web to become fake news sources. Compared to mainstream news, fakery is difficult to decipher in origin as well as intent.

We also notice satirical content on the web causing both laughter and confusion. The information overload era has now turned into an information missoverload era. We bend towards popular content that is being shared in our networks and we believe it- simply because it is pushed towards us. Thanks to the power of machine learning and Facebook news feed algorithms!

How did we let this happen?

There is nothing new about fake news. It’s not something that a new generation accidentally created between flossing and playing Pokemon Go. It’s deeply rooted in our humanity, as a more formal form of gossip and a tactic for sabotage. In 1831, the New York Son faked an entire story about life on the moon, which they attributed to a well-known astronomer, and people believed it.

Readers saw it published, they wanted to believe it or they were intrigued by it and bam! fake news became “real news” before anyone could say “wait a minute, that doesn’t entirely make sense”.

Anyone can create a bit of fake news and share it with wanton abandon, so of course – they make it their mission to do so. Why? it might just be for a laugh, maybe it’s for art or science! Sometimes the people creating the content actually believe it or they were misinformed themselves. However, there are occasions where creating fake news has a slightly more sinister tone than being part of a harmless prank…

We have entered a new world of democracy where anyone can post anything on the web giving rise to the bloggers. Brands take the support of their popularity to spread brand awareness and even generate sales. What started off as an innocent mutually beneficial relationship slowly turned into a monetary mechanism. In the era where consumer starts and ends their purchase cycle by reading reviews and peer generated content, brands realised the potential to sell through influencers leading to unethical promotions or somewhat fake advertising practices.

How does fake news affect your brand’s reputation?

The Internet has disrupted the media industry and we lie in a strange place where there is a constant dilemma of what to believe and what not to believe.

Audiences now are more alert than before to this kind of indigenous PR opportunity and consumers of these brands have started cringing at extreme promotional advertising that may not come across as real. In such cases, the new era of customers might shun the brand or even start negative campaigns against them expressing that the brand is not telling the truth in advertising. Millennials in particular desire to be real, unique and appreciate real brand experiences. They want relationships based on consistency and honesty. Once a customer becomes suspicious of the brand’s messaging, this fake messaging could impact the authenticity and credibility of brands. In other words, authenticity is more than a one-dimensional attribute. It has psychological and subjective value.

From a customer journey and reputation standpoint, it is important for brands to identify and distinguish real and fake news. Such influencing factors directly impact customers journey to locate, consider and purchase products and services.

How can you manage fake news as part of a crisis management plan?

  • Keep a radar going on the social landscape to help anticipate and identify a crisis. Make sure that you are religiously monitoring the social media landscape with reputation and media monitoring software or manually. You can also use hashtags to get an idea of what content is being posted around a topic. Mentions: Can help you specifically see what people are saying about your brand.

    Sentiment: can indicate a red flag and help start off an investigation into why sentiment is negative or positive. However, your understanding of the social landscape needs to go quite far beyond just looking at your own company/brand – even beyond the landscape of your industry. Having a thorough generational understanding of the world online can help you prevent faux pas, identify trends in fake news and start safeguarding your brand accordingly.

  • Understand that a media crisis can happen to anyone – even a small company. Don’t think that you can get by without any idea of how you would manage risk or fake news about your brand because it might be small or not very controversial.
  • Ensure you have a dedicated crisis manager or team to assist in emergencies. You can train in-house staff to take on this role or establish a relationship with a PR company for assistance. Your team should have the necessary skills to monitor the social landscape, create crisis communications and leverage relationships to mitigate and address risk.
  • Create holding statements. These can be used to acknowledge a crisis and to buy you some time while you establish which strategy is best for a specific crisis. Create one specifically for what you deem fake news about your brand.
  • Conduct a post-crisis analysis.Any challenge is an opportunity to learn and while you might prescribe to a fail fast mindset, it’s still important to take lessons from any crisis. This can help you mitigate risk in future and get a better understanding of where you might have gone wrong. Look at which parts of your strategy were helpful or sufficient and where you can improve. Embrace the finer details during this exercise.

And, don’t be part of the problem

Don’t run the risk of creating your own kind of “fake news” in the form of clickbait. Yes, it feels good to have large numbers of viewers respond to a controversial or overly excitable headline but the quality of those interactions is low, without the substance needed to quantify them. For too long, we’ve collectively measured clicks and views in isolation, to varying extents. When you start looking at the nature of engagements beyond a figure, you will have greater insight into potential risks and who your consumers are. Shares, retweets, comments and reactions are more important than how many people might have opened something for a few minutes. Prioritise high-quality content with exciting headlines that don’t mislead readers. Be genuine and perpetuate a “real news” media to help consumers trust again.

Summary

You can use the fundamentals of online reputation management to help protect your brand against fake news. Half the battle is staying in the loop and creating a basic plan to deal with an untrue story or media source that could cause damage. And while the possibility of a crisis stemming from fake news might seem unlikely, that’s not a risk you can take. Also – never assume that someone, somewhere won’t believe in that baby born with three heads.

To combat the fake news circuit brands must:

  1. Create reliable and honest content true to their brand values.
  2. Build relationships over time, do not only rely on one blogger or thought leader to promote the brand.
  3. Keep an eye out for similar websites and URL- some websites have really dodgy and unique names, be sure to check the content on such websites before advertising on them in any form. Some others may also have similar URL’s to legitimate sources such ABCNews.com.co mimicking ABC.com, which is a legitimate news source.
  4. Constant monitoring by brands- Brands must ensure that they monitor their coverage regularly to keep a tab on fake sources. Tools such as Meltwater can help detect a crises situation in advance.
  5. Turn on your detective mode! Before considering any partnership, look for evidence. Who has the source worked with in the past, does the headline make claims that are not supported within the article and so on.
  6. Harvest media contacts database to ID influencers who can spread your message and correlate the correct story to the right audience.
  7. Facebook’s new ranking algorithms can help. The integration of fact checking into Facebook’s publication platforms will help identify and reduce misleading and spammy posts in the news feed. This move also depicts the value of authentic content in order to maintain brand credibility.
  8. Give customers the power to curate their authenticity alongside the brand. E.g. the Dove ‘Real Beauty’ advertising campaign, which is an attempt by the brand to accurately represent and engage their customers.