Brands go where the customers are, and an awful lot of them are on Facebook, the world’s most popular social network. But an awful lot of those customers also have political views, and many were sharing some awfully fake “news” stories on the network in the months leading up to the November election.
That has created a problem for Mark Zuckerberg and his team of software geniuses. More to the point for marketing professionals: The fake news controversy is also an issue for content marketing, as those professionals use Facebook and other social networks to establish their clients as trusted sources for information.
We won’t be getting into the political aspects of this issue
This isn’t about name-calling or finger-pointing. Yet if you were on Facebook in the past few months, you may have seen dubious “news” items about certain candidates passed along by family and friends who supported their opponents. Since election day, we’ve heard arguments that those stories may have influenced the outcome of the presidential race.
Zuckerberg initially called that idea “crazy,” but after being presented evidence of false stories working their way into News Feeds, he has since moderated his views and said his team would work on a solution.
It may be needed soon. A false and particularly hideous anti-Hillary Clinton story that claimed the Democrat was the leader of a child slavery ring which had its headquarters at a Washington D.C. pizza restaurant prompted an armed North Carolina man to show up there on Dec. 4 to rescue the kids. When he didn’t find any, he fired his rifle. No one was hurt, and the man was arrested, but it put a brighter media spotlight on fake news.
During an interview with the New York Times, the man admitted “the intel on this wasn’t 100-percent,” which is a polite way of saying he needs to consider the source more when reading these items on his favorite social network. But this man has already done that with traditional mainstream news outlets in print and television, and he’s obviously found them wanting.
That’s how those fake news items ended up on your Facebook feed in the first place – distrust in mainstream media – and while some of that damage is indeed self-inflicted, there’s a danger of poisoning the well for any efforts to pass along good, trusted information to consumers – whether that’s done journalistically, or via marketing on behalf of a brand.
Rewind to 2006 and YouTube’s early days
You may remember that the video sharing network back then was a scary, dimly lit place full of famously obscene content and copyright violations. Yet traffic was building and more venture capital was flowing in, and everyone involved sought a sustainable business model in advertising and (eventually) subscription revenue. YouTube’s then-new owner, Google, knew it had to clean house and set up some standards, especially involving Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) violations.
A billion users and billions of video views later,
YouTube is now a much safer place for brands to do business. Why wouldn’t they? YouTube pulls more younger users than most cable channels. Although some of the comments underneath videos can still show racism and misogyny, and questionable content can still be found, there are more controls in place such as sign-ins, and YouTube acts quickly to remove DMCA violations.
Pew Research Institute found earlier this year that 62-percent of those surveyed now say they rely on social media for their news. That’s why Facebook’s software teams have to come up with the right algorithms to skim false news items out of News Feeds. However, it will also put pressure on marketers to make sure their branded content on Facebook is not only compelling, timely and organic, but also factually accurate.
We understand that native journalism, branded content, content marketing – whatever you want to call it – isn’t actual objective journalism. It’s a story told from the viewpoint of a brand/business. Yet it’s still a story, and it still has to be told well enough to keep a customer’s interest. (Check out the websites of Red Bull or Coca-Cola for examples of content marketing done well.) It’s never overtly promotional, and especially in the case of B2Bs, it should always offer helpful information and/or timely commentary on industry developments for current and potential customers. That’s how it helps build thought leadership, trust and credibility.
The platforms that content marketing sit on also matter. Social networks can indeed narrow the gap between brands and customers, between creators and consumers. Facebook needs to make sure there’s enough light to chase away the shadows created by purveyors of fake news.