What Does Fake News Mean For Content Marketing In 2020?

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Fake news means a lot of different things, depending on who you ask.

Despite its contentious rise within the mainstream and continued doubt surrounding what classifies as ‘fake news’ there are legitimate debates to be had about our modern media structure and particularly social media’s role within it. 

Although it may consider itself separate from mainstream news and media, the marketing is heavily involved within the industry and has subsequently been tarnished with the same fake news brush. Fake news has fundamentally changed the way marketing and PR campaigns must be conducted, adding multiple layers of caution for content creators to be aware of every day. 

So, in 2020 what does the continued prominence of fake news mean for the content marketing industry and what practices must become common as the landscape changes

Citations must improve

Yes, some people may still believe everything they read online – but savviness and caution around online media has never been so prevalent. 

If there has been one benefit of fake news culture, it’s a heightened awareness around the importance of sources and citations within content. Just in time for a wave of new COVID-themed cybercrime. 

This burden of proof is particularly important to marketers looking to promote products and services. An individual may believe what their trusted news anchor tells them in the morning, but they’re less likely to take a brand’s word at face value. 

If your marketing is based on a fact or figure, it’s imperative you’re able to back it up with a source. Hard evidence is more important than ever before in a world where people can instantly Google an answer or directly accuse you of lying over social media (even without evidence this can sow seeds of doubt). If someone clicks your link and isn’t presented with a source for a claim featured in your content, they wouldn’t be misplaced to think you’re lying.

Content marketers either need to start being more subjective with their claims or find respected sources to back them up. A claim without a source isn’t just worthless in a fake news world, but an accident waiting to happen. Time spent tinkering on the semantics of your content would be better spent finding proper sources. 

Approach with caution though. Not all sources are created equal and relying on those found on search engines to back up facts does present its own fake news problems. As marketing expert Larry Kim discusses in his featured episode on the marketing podcast Marketing Speak –  Google’s expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness test for content can’t necessarily always route out fake news if there is an audience engaging with the content positively. Bet cautious with your choices to save blushes down the line. 

However, it pays to have some kind of backup that people can click through to or search themselves. Even if they don’t read it, the effort will be appreciated by this more fact-savvy audience. 

Social proof will rise in importance

In 2020, many online businesses are reaping the rewards of the rise of the social proof phenomenon. Perhaps none more so than ecommerce. 

Although power has been handed to the customer – with the most powerful tool in marketing becoming a positive review from someone a consumer perceives to be just like them. As this article from the CSI Group attests, brands being held to account through reviews and star ratings has allowed the quality ones to gain a foothold in the market and ultimately snowball. 

What does this have to do with fake news though? Well, as consumers become more wary of the idea of fake reviews and stores as a front for advanced cybercrime operations they will turn to social proof to help them separate the wheat from the chaff. Fake news as a term has evolved past whether a newspaper is telling you the truth and become a more all-encompassing mantra for anything you read online. 

Although they’re intensely popular, people don’t necessarily trust brands. Consumers believe powerful brands will do or say anything to sell their products and services – which isn’t that much of a stretch. This has created a situation where the first stage of marketing is not about putting forward your wares, but establishing a position of trust. Perhaps the best way of doing just that is by using an independent source – in this instance fellow consumers. 

Although a bad review could sink everything from a restaurant to an Etsy store, it’s a risk worth taking to establish trust and eliminate any sniff of the ‘fake news’ idea. This doesn’t just mean it’s imperative to be signed up for independent review sites or leave the space for customer comments – but that brands must build part of their marketing content around the idea of social proof. Use this trusted, independent source to your advantage and establish strong reviews and customer experiences as an ever-present part of your marketing to drive home a message of trust. 

Marketers have to get better at answering questions

The general consensus is that the fake news phenomenon has led to a more visceral media landscape and reaction to it. However, there is a notion that it has made people more inquisitive about the source of the media they consume. 

Once again, this isn’t just a challenge for media outlets, but anyone creating widely consumed content. 

The advent of fake news means more questions for your brand and marketing output. This is almost impossible to avoid, so rather than trying to do so, make sure you’re tackling customer queries head on. 

Much like they desire social proof, consumers are also on the lookout for explanations from brands. They may even expect answers before they ask the questions. 

Social media pages have become nothing more but hubs for customer queries. Users will regularly go to these pages to enquire about orders, ask about availability and even see if their question has been answered before. Even if they don’t have a specific issue consumers want to see brands interacting with consumers. It’s all part of their internal ‘legitimacy check’ which has become vital online whether they’re reading an article or ordering a product. 

Take a brand such as UPS for example. A delivery company will often be inundated by hundreds of messages a day from consumers asking about their parcels. Brands such as UPS have made it part of their mission statement to consistently answer these questions to develop trust and give legitimacy to their words (an important part of disassociating yourself with the facets of fake news). If you’re seen dodging questions it can bring your integrity into question. 

Answers aren’t just important because they answer a question – but because they’re public. Whether in a Facebook reply or on a FAQs page, it’s vital that brands counter fake news culture head on and provide consumers with as much clarity as possible. This kind of content will be the brand building and trust establishing focus of the future. 

Creative risks require justification 

Marketing thrives off of risk taking. 

The celebrity endorsement, the uniquely written blog, the interactive campaign – they’re all calculated risks content marketers make every day to try and sell products and services. A few decades ago you could get away with a risk and a failure would eventually go away – but in a fake news world truth and success is demanded of marketing. Or, at least, an attempt at trying to make something look genuine. 

Content marketers have to become much warier of what their content is saying. No matter how you answer the eventual questions, if you are taking too great of a risk with your content you are opening yourself up to a damaged reputation. This won’t just harm your existing campaign, but future ones. Corporate responsibility is taken very seriously in the fake news era, and one strike is enough to put you out for good. 

The impact varying degrees of negative press has on your ability to attract customers has been well noted, with incremental increases in bad coverage leading to huge drop-offs in customer bases. In a churnalism driven media landscape, it’s not at all unrealistic to have four or more outlets covering the same negative story about you and populating the first page of your search result with bad press. 

Forget 2020, fake news has already brought about substantial change in marketing. 

Everything your campaign says and does is going to be scrutinized heavily and held up to an almost unobtainable purity. The key to navigating this changing perception is to try your best to be honest with your content and get through it with your reputation unscathed.  


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