Fake News’ Affect on Journalism, PR and Business, and 5 Tips on What to Do
The year 2016 has brought many changes. The first non-establishment, populist president; the return of 1960s style protests and cultural divide after decades of healing; the loss of objectivity in mass media and journalism, and the unmasking of FAKE NEWS. Whether you’re on the left or right of this argument, it doesn’t matter. What’s obvious is that just because it’s on TV or the Internet does not mean it’s true; one must be savvy and do his or her own research, and have a critical mind. This has affected journalism; making those reporters who ARE trustworthy more discerning on what and who to use as a source, and how to glean information from social media. Fake news has affected the power of social media in getting earned media.
Why is this important? If you’re a reputable brand using social media to promote your business, getting earned media is a key strategy. Earned media is when a reporter, radio or TV host, newspaper, magazine or portal reaches out to you, because they found your message compelling. It’s organic. Paid media is when you pay to be in the story, it’s an elaborate ad, so it’s impact is not as powerful as earned. Fake news has even rocked social media and how it’s used by journalists. Due to this, you may need to rethink which networks to use and how.
First, let’s look at how it’s affected overall communication; after all, if you know the “why,” then figuring out the “how” becomes easier. Then we’ll look at which networks would be more beneficial and what you can do about it.
The Power of Fake News
According to Statistica, 48% of social-media users report seeing fake news online at least once a day. Stanford University did a study about fake news during the 2016 election and concluded that the biggest purveyor of fake news was social media, at 41.8%. Search engines were a 22% contributor. Moreover, 58% of people who recalled seeing a BIG fake news headline, believed it! Since most people live on sound bites and headlines (in other words, they’re too lazy to do their own research), they believe the first thing they see or hear – hence the impact of fake news.
However, when fake news is attacked, the ongoing correction confuses the masses. They become skeptical and polarized of news and who’s doing the reporting.
The Effects of Fake News
Fake news has had a damaging effect to the consumer (regular people) and the media.
For some news personalities, the distrust factor is warranted because they don’t report facts; they report opinions. However, not all journalists are dishonest or push an agenda. People tend to paint demographics with a broad-brush: since some news is untrustworthy, ALL media is untrustworthy (unless, of course, you agree with them – selective belief).
According to Gallup, in an article titled, American’s Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low, dated September 2016, only 32% of Americans trusted mass media. The implication being 68% don’t. BreitBart, in an article dated April 28, 2017, stated that only 29% of Americans trusted news media – 71% don’t. In one year, confidence eroded an additional 3%. Journalism has been given a black eye!
The affect on consumers is two-fold as well. The reader, watcher and listener doesn’t know what to believe and gets angry. You can do a lot for your stress level and blood pressure by NOT watching the news… I’m just sayin’!
While business owners use social media to get earned media, or even use paid media, they have an erosion of their marketing dollars. If the masses don’t trust reporters when it comes to serious issues, why would they trust them on simple ones? In other words, their lack of trust may extend to your public relations efforts.
This has caused an equal opposite reaction: reporters trying to clean up the mess and re-earn the public trust.
The Effect on Public Relations Professionals
The first result is leeriness of PR professionals. Whether this is fair or not is another topic, but since PR professionals are about gaining the attention of the media for their clients, using whatever tactic works, providing manufactured news (not fake news), journalists have become ambivalent.
Manufactured news is when a PR pro creates a story around their client’s expertise. For example, if you’re a doctor who wrote a book on the dangers of inflammation and how to prevent or minimize its affects, the PR agency would position you as an expert in inflammation with break through findings, who just happened to write a book. The campaign is about selling the book, but you don’t want to lead with that because the news division would simply point you in the direction of the advertising department.
However, if some health news is trending on heart disease, strokes or anything that can be tied to inflammation, reporters look for experts to interview. Now, a PR can approach them with an expert that fits their needs, whose credentials may be: doctor, researcher, possibly professor, speaker and author of the new book, “Fill in the blank.” The media knows the game. They interview the expert and plug his or her book, website and Twitter account. This may now be more difficult.
The Effect on Social Media
Until recently, microblogs like Twitter and Snapchat were where one wanted to promote, because journalists lived on them. Reporters would look for trending topics. When they found one, they would search for experts to interview, use one of their blog articles or excerpt a blog article for their story (read: Get FREE PR on Twitter and Journalists Want Your Blog).
You see, it’s all about advertising revenue. If WXYZ News (I don’t know if there’s a real WXYZ News; if so, I’m not referring to them, this is just an example) is able to break news faster than their competitor, they train their public that their station is where you need to be for the latest news. As their viewership increases, their advertising rates follow, providing profit for the company and funding for the news division. Therefore, timing is essential to beat the competition to the punch. Twitter and other microblogs allowed them to do what took hours previously, in minutes.
According to Ragan PR, Report: How Journalists Use Social Media in 2017, they are using microblogs less and networks more. Since Twitter has been replete with fake accounts and bots creating fake narratives for the highest bidder, it’s become unreliable. How do you know the trend you’re seeing is real? How do you know the tweets which led to an expert aren’t contrived? This doesn’t mean they may not still use microblogs; if so, they use high caution. What it DOES mean is THIS caution may make it difficult to get their attention. This may double or triple your social-media budget if you insist on using microblogs as part of your main mix.
Google+ and Facebook
Ironically, two winners are networks with trust issues on fake or biased news: Facebook and Google. I’ve no explanation why. You’d think these accusations with supporting documentation, would make the media run from them in order to clean up their reputation. But, nonetheless, these are the winners.
So, if you’re using Facebook and Google+ (and LinkedIn as it’s a network and not a microblog), you fair a better chance at getting earned media.
What Can You Do About It?
We live in a time when critical thinking is under used. DON’T BE THAT GUY OR GIRL! We often make choices on what to share online by what we see in the news. If we react, instead of ACT (think logically instead of emotionally), you may regret sharing something that can make your brand look incompetent, or worse, biased to half of your demographic, foregoing the other sizeable half who have spending dollars. So, you need to know what you read is based on fact.
- When you read an article, ask yourself, is it sharing facts or spewing opinion and an agenda? If it’s an OpEd that’s okay. It is an opinion piece, you expect it be slanted toward the author’s views. But if it’s disguised as news, it’s NOT okay. News is fact and objectivity for the reader to form his or her own thoughts. When news is laced with opinion, it crosses the line of objectivity (the reporter chose a side) and you must be able to identify and remove the opinion, and look at the facts and decide what it means for you. Ask yourself, “Is this fake news? Is it biased news? Would sharing this help or hurt my brand?”
- The above is crucial if you seek earned media. If a reporter happens upon your blog and social profiles, and sees you share good, quality content, avoiding hearsay and fake news, he or she is more apt to reach out to you.
- Find reporters, hosts and influencers online and follow them. Start a conversation and build rapport. If they see you share quality and not frivolity, they’ll feel safe to consider you as a source for an interview.
- Make sure your blog articles offer value and substance (read: Don’t Know What to Blog? 4 Tips to Write Blogs that Pull). Never post a fluff piece – an article that makes you look like a lightweight.
- Make sure your website is professional, clean, attractive and offers value. By value, I mean the information and experience are so good, a visitor would want to read it regardless of whether he or she would buy something.
Social media has changed many paradigms. It’s provided a powerful platform for communication that people with no scruples and an agenda can manipulate. It was easy when no one thought anyone would do such a thing, but now that we’re informed, we have a responsibility to check things out – don’t take anything at face value. This is why I cite everything, so you can do your own critical thinking.
Be that as it may, the repercussions have led to having to adjust. Remember, change and death are the only constants in life, and if you do business online, become a vigilant student of the industry and trends. Don’t be lazy in thinking and let the results sucker-punch you and your profits. It could be the death knell of your business… it was for Sony BMG!
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