Just to be clear, by "Fake News," I'm talking about news stories that contain made-up facts (i.e. "fake news" to Snopes.com) rather than stories that contain facts that the reader wishes weren't true (i.e. "fake news" to Trump).

There's no question that fake news influenced the recent presidential election and continues to mold public opinion. While fake news has always been around, social media has made fake news arguably more powerful than mainstream (i.e. truth-based) media.

Today, millions of people believe "facts" that are demonstrably false. While one could get cynical about this sad state of affairs (e.g. "there's a sucker born every minute"), it turns out that people believe fake news for the best of reasons: they trust their friends.

According to a new study of nearly 1,500 Americans conducted by Media Insight Project and cited in New York magazine:

"people who see an article from a trusted sharer, but one written by an unknown media source, have much more trust in the information than people who see the same article from a reputable media source shared by a person they do not trust."

For marketers, this is hugely important because prospects and customer generally do not trust marketers, salespeople or corporations. Therefore, any marketing claims you make--even fact-based ones--will be unconvincing compared to whatever word-of-mouth is floating around.

For example, suppose you're fortunate enough to have independently-conducted, statistically-valid research showing that your product provides the best value for the lowest price. Suppose you also convince a major media outlet to write a glowing article based on that research.

If you share that article with your prospects and customers, they MAY believe those facts but they're much more likely to believe a YELP or Amazon review that trashes your business or product, even if that review contains obvious lies and inconsistencies.

The situation is even worse if, rather than verifiable facts, all you have to trot out is your own opinion of yourself. Until you establish trust (and even afterwards), nothing you say will be considered as important as the opinions of your customer's peers. Nothing.

Rather than trying to muster facts or exhibit enthusiasm, marketers must now:

  1. Make it easier for existing customer to share positive experiences.
  2. Do quick damage control when negative reviews crop up.

Here's an real-life example. The family of a friend of mine owns a huge furniture store which, objectively measured, provides the best value over all the local alternatives. The company has advertised that fact extensively, through multiple media channels, for many years.

However, the store recently received a series of bad YELP reviews, mostly connected with delivery problems. It didn't matter that the bad reviews were unfair and contained falsehoods. To prospective customers, they felt real, like the "fake news" that bounces around on Facebook.

Rather than let the situation fester, my friend encouraged customers he'd personally met to enter positive reviews and personally contacted the negative reviewers to "make good" by offering them discounts and other perks. Within a couple of months, the company's YELP scores skyrocketed from two to four stars and store's sales spiked sharply upwards.

The lesson of fake news for marketers is that you can't depend upon advertising and traditional media to mold public opinion about your brand. Instead, you must work get your customers to share the positive truths about your company. Meanwhile make sure, as far as possible, that "fake news" about your company dies on the social media vine.

Published on: Mar 28, 2017
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