Fighting Back in the Fake News Era

Although devastating effect of fake news has been the subject of history annals and textbooks, its reintroduction into our collective consciousness by one of the most influential voices in the world has created a problematic duality for marketing and communications practitioners.

Edelman and others have been tracking consumer data that reveals most Americans really don’t trust the media, company spokespeople or the heads of big business anymore. And while consumer trust in what historically had been the most trusted communications channel has fallen to record lows, the demand for media relations results remains high across our industry.

Along with other factors reshaping marketing and communications spending industrywide, the smile-and-dial approach to media pitching can be hard to shed from marketing plans despite the diminishing returns the approach offers in today’s pageview ecosystem.

Paid media channels, which historically have offered more control for a brand than earned channels, have also proven to be potentially unsafe for certain messages. Increasingly, advertisers are taking stances through publicly announced boycotts of some of the most popular personalities across the traditional broadcast and online media landscapes.

Communicators and marketers across the country continue to grapple with this challenge, which will be the topic of my August keynote address of Tampa PRSA’s 2017 Professional Development Day, in addition to being the paramount concern I heard from attendees at a breakfast event with Orlando’s PRSA Chapter last month.

Most the conversation was focused on how individuals, brands and media companies have responded to the shifting sands of consumer trust. And more importantly, how those course-corrections have unearthed new ways for communicators to earn consumer trust back:

  1. Influencers have joined big business and legacy media as the new voices of authority: Peer-to-peer digital media has enabled people like you and me to command attention and influence behavior in a way that only a select few used to. It’s no surprise that influencer marketing has gone from a potential budget consideration for next year to a daily part of brand management. But this scale has perhaps come at a cost, as some of the most trusted and longest-tenured voices are now no longer 100 percent brand safe. It’s created opportunity for “microinfluencers,”or those with fewer than a thousand followers, to gobble up our online attention and engagement — the cycle begins anew.
  1. Brands became their own media companies: With declining reach and trust in legacy media, brands gradually turned to the digital channels they could own — think websites, social pages, email newsletters and others — to self-publish their message and better reach target audiences. Armed with the same powerful creative and distribution tools as media companies, brands today can operate professional-quality newsrooms that journalists check daily for breaking news, or produce enough quantity content to run an award-winning 24-hour TV network. In other words, brands can create the coverage and attention they previously paid for, or earned their way into — if you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em.
  1. Publishers are making a comeback with new networks and verticals: The harsh reality of the pageview economy has forced most publishers to reconsider digital, peer-to-peer platforms as the primary way to reach and monetize an audience. In those hyper-competitive search and social channels, the now infinitesimal organic reach of content makes it even harder to achieve those objectives. Publishers have responded not only by increasing their overall output, adding new political, issues and opinion-led verticals or even spin-off brands, but also by forming feeder networks of news outlets down to the DMA-level that identify and then syndicate content that’s going to get read and rank well online. These new tricks have served the old dogs well. In addition to owning nearly a quarter of social engagement for U.S. brands in 2016, media and publishing companies are often guinea pigs for new social and search features before they are rolled out to the public, thanks to their quality reach and content.

Brad Simon is an account supervisor, Edelman Orlando.