Why Fake News Raises the Stakes for Brands

Fake News Alert

This article was originally published in MarTech Advisor.

In the fallout of the 2016 election the rise of the use of the term Fake News continues to be a disruptive force in news consumption and in the advertising ecosystem, causing confusion and calling brands – among others – to action. Steve Sachs, CEO of OneSpot explores why the term itself is problematic and how increased awareness around the phenomenon raises the stakes for brands

In the fallout of the 2016 election, the rise of fake news online has bombarded consumers, brands and journalists alike, creating confusion as well as generating awareness of the issue. The term “fake news” can itself be problematic depending on how it is used. For instance, political leaders and organizations might use the term to their advantage to dismiss and discredit news stories and headlines that are critical of their administration. Or established news organizations might brand smaller, alternative news sites as “fake” to shift attention and blame from their own lack of accurate reporting. The following is a look at the conditions that have given rise to the fake news phenomenon as well as the implications and critical opportunities for brands.

A number of factors gave rise to the fake news phenomenon. When 62 percent of the adult population cite social media as their primary source for news (Pew Research Center), the result is continual self-selection of outlets and kinds of content that appear in the “news” feed, often reinforcing and reaffirming personal preferences and perspectives. According to analysis from BuzzFeed in November, in the last three months of the U.S. presidential campaign the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook resulted in more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York TimesWashington Post and Huffington Post among others. While fake news has been broadly covered in recent years, the recent election has bolstered awareness of its impact.

For brand marketers and advertisers, growing awareness of fake news sites publishing inaccurate or false reporting have caused concern over where ads might appear, especially in terms of programmatic media placements. Because of this, brands must continue to put in place practices that prevent their content from appearing alongside hate-driven or otherwise illicit content that does not align with their values. As the growth of programmatic media buying increases, the implications will continue to be significant. Using whitelists, blacklists and semantic technologies, most demand-side platforms are helping advertisers address these concerns filtering out sites and placements they want eliminated.

As consumers become more aware of and familiar with the concept of fake news, they’re likely to be more suspicious. Last September Gallup reported trust in news media had plummeted to the lowest levels in their history of polling on the question. Only 32 percent of those polled said they had a great deal or a fair amount of trust in the news media “to report the news accurately and fairly.” How do brands garner consumer trust? Key platforms where consumers discover content, most notably Facebook, are now planning to change their user experiences to either filter or flag content that may be suspicious or false. How will branded content be treated in this new world and what new steps should brands be taking now to deal with change? In addition, the rise of fake news raises the stakes for brands to ensure content they produce is relevant for individuals.

As consumers are continually inundated with content of varying quality and relevance, the rise of the fake news phenomenon is a critical moment for brands to adapt their strategy to ensure branded content offers value. As brands themselves become more prolific content publishers, they increasingly face a “needle in the haystack” problem in reaching consumers. At a minimum, brands must ensure content is either personally relevant, useful, educational, entertaining or any combination of these. Because consumers won’t spend time or attention with content that’s not valuable or interesting to them, marketers must go the extra mile to ensure branded content is personally relevant every step of the way.

By keeping the realities of the fake news phenomenon in mind, separating fact from fiction and harnessing the power of big data and analytics to deliver personally relevant, meaningful experiences, marketers can ensure they are delivering real value to customers, continually engaging, building affinity and long lasting relationships.

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