Whilst Donald Trump may have made the phrase popular as a response to negative coverage from the media, Fake News is becoming the story of 2018. As we learn more about just how the Russians were able to influence the US election, and how the Brexit campaign may have been carried out, we can see how influential fake news has become.
And the rise of fake news owes a lot to viral marketing. It’s been found that misinformation spreads faster over social media than truth. It seems to be that people are driven by either the novelty of hearing ‘alternative facts’ or that they respond to what they have always believed to be true rather than what actually is.
What Drives Fake News?
Fake news isn’t just spread by your embarrassingly UKIP Uncle Ron, who doesn’t know any better. In fact, the only reason that Uncle Ron sees that post in the first place is due to what’s known as computational propaganda. All those syllables basically boil down to Twitter bots; automated social media accounts that create the appearance of a viral success. When these bots whirl into action, retweeting certain messages and using certain hashtags, they boost the signal. It gives a false impression to the algorithms that Twitter, Facebook and others use to determine ‘what’s hot’ and they make that content a priority.
But it isn’t just fake news that gets spread this way. The same accounts that spread misinformation also generate traffic using clickbait headlines. You know the sort, they usually start with something like, ‘You won’t believe…’ and are accompanied by a photograph that piques your interest. Clicking on them takes you a site that is saturated in pay-per-click adverts.
The devaluing of PPC
We’ve all clicked on something like that, whether it’s gossip about the upcoming Royal Wedding, what celebrities/their children look like now, or weight-loss tips. You end up on a site promising you a list of twenty or more facts, and each one is displayed on a separate, ad-filled page. This sort of content doesn’t generate great engagement with the adverts.
In fact, JP Morgan recently carried out a manual audit of the 400,000 websites that were displaying its ads. They discovered that all but 5,000 of them were providing them with little value. As a result, they pulled their ads from all but the sites where they were getting genuine engagement.
What’s to be Done?
Marketing budgets are always tight, so it makes sense to audit what you are getting for your money. Where there are direct relationships between the advertiser and the site, the latter should be more than happy to provide some quality metrics for their traffic including:
- Number of visitors and page views
- Geographical spread of visitors
- Bounce rate (visitors who come to the site and immediately leave)
- Click conversion rate
Exactly what you measure will depend on the nature of the campaign, but companies need to be clear in what performance they expect from campaigns.
When working with third-party providers, seeking assurances that they only use high-quality sites with genuine traffic and good interaction is a must. If a provider doesn’t want to answer those questions, then you must wonder why.
Has Fake News Killed Social Media?
Unfortunately the rise of fake news, and the recent Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal has done a lot to damage the public perception of social media and PPC adverts. The Fake News phenomenon caused 9/10 US adults asked to report they had felt confused about current events as a result of reading conflicting articles.
As Mark Zuckerberg faces questions in congress about what they knew of Cambridge Analytica’s actions, Apples co-founder Steve Wozniak has joined the #deletefacebook campaign where users delete their accounts as a response to the revelations. However, Facebook claim that they haven’t yet seen a significant drop-off in user accounts.
Although there’s no doubt that this is a turbulent time for Facebook in particular, and social media in general it seems that their services have become such an intrinsic part of our lives that we are reluctant to close our accounts.
The Future of Fake News
Social media platforms have committed to working harder to identify and eradicate the spread of Fake News. While it might take some time to win back consumer trust, it doesn’t seem as though social media has met its doom just yet. But digital marketers will need to think hard about where they place their content to make sure they are not paying for low-quality, empty clicks.
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