Fake News in the Age of Digital Marketing

Fake news: a buzz phrase turned growing problem, turned election altering epidemic.

In the last couple years, the dark side of social media—for users and marketers alike—has certainly reared its ugly head. The efforts to better incorporate checks and balances across network by these platforms aside, the onus now falls on both digital consumers and creators to activate social consciousness.

The truth of the matter though, is that fake news is not a new concept. This can be traced back from the advent of the printing press in 1439 to the infamous email hoaxes of the late 90s/early 2000s. As long as people have been able to spread information on a massive, public scale, they’ve been able to spread misinformation.

This of course only becomes a problem when people categorize these lies as truths. The greater number of those that choose to do so, the more difficult it becomes to reverse the thought processes that begin to take place.

So, what makes it so easy for us to fall for this digital garbage?

The Psychology Behind Why We Fall for Fake News

A factor of both the channels through which we turn to for news nowadays and the consequence of bias, fake news is something that society has almost been conditioned to fall for.

Starting with the multi-source layers we’re presented with to sort through on social media, the tendency towards fake news justification becomes all too clear.

From the smallest of employee verb fumbles to large branding fumbles gone viral.

An Inattention to Sources

The more content online consumers are presented with, the less attention span they have to distribute across the board.

Not only are brands competing for time in your feed, basic deductive reasoning skills are competing against a sum of ongoing distractions. Various studies and experiments have shown that people simply don’t place a great deal of value in journalistic sourcing, especially on social media.

Playing into this is the lengthy chain of sources consumers are forced to sift through. Say, for example, you come across a shared post from your friend of a curated article posted by a local business from an online publisher. The sources to weigh in this scenario clock in at 4: the online publisher, the local business, Facebook, and your friend. This creates a situation where users place the weight of sourcing reliability on the final vehicle delivering the message: their friends.

The Intersection of Implicit and Confirmation Bias

Our biases also contribute to our inability to distinguish between the real and the phony. More specifically, the merging of our implicit and confirmation biases presents the most problematic of situations.

  • Implicit bias: This is the idea that we tend to group other people into categories. The more we align someone with our own categorization of self, the more we inherently choose to see them as trustworthy. One of the most popular examples of this would be with regards to politics (i.e. liberals versus conservatives).
  • Confirmation bias: This idea plays into our tendency to want to confirm what we already know… or think we know. If something conforms to what we already believe to be true, we’re more likely to trust it without a second glance. And potentially more problematic, the less something conforms to what we already believe, the less likely we are to trust it without a second glance.

The meeting place that has proven to surface these biases in their most dangerous states is, of course, social media. Through channels like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram, we tend to collect and congregate in spaces of like mindedness.

So not only are we surrounded by friends we trust as resources, touting similar beliefs; we’re surrounded by these sources, just like us, who are subconsciously seeking to confirm what they already believe. It’s a dangerous combo.

What Fake News Means for Marketers

The spread of fake news isn’t just a call for consciousness on behalf of readers, but for marketers as well. As active contributors to the content marketing strategies helping to shape brand identity nowadays, there are a number of truths we should become comfortable with adhering to.

40 % of consumers would rather see ads tailored towards their interests than random.

Draw a Line Between Branded and Editorial Content

Studies have shown that users are becoming more picky about where they turn to for news. While not an immediate 360, audiences have begun to turn more towards online publications directly for news updates rather than social media as a third party.

For brands, this means, there has to be a clear line drawn in the sand between what’s branded and sponsored on behalf of publishers, and what’s editorial in nature. Failing to do so automatically taints authenticity and trustworthiness on behalf of the brand being represented.

Establishing Authority

As you create content for audiences, you will inevitably weigh factors such as entertainment value, usefulness, and relevance.

Authority should find itself high on that same list in this post fake news world for the sake of establishing a long term, credible reputation. After all, advocacy for your brand comes from genuine connections built across your brand and its community; not from cheap tricks and flashy clickbait.

Knowing Your Audience

Knowing your audience is not just about demographics. It’s not about the blanketed persona names given to intended targets. It’s about behavior and the needs you are seeking to fulfill as a product and/or service. To break through the noise and distrust of today’s audiences, marketers have to position what brands have to offer uniquely enough so as to standout in the [true or otherwise] clutter.

What steps has your marketing team taken to ensure credible content creation? Send us a Tweet at @mabblytribe.