two friends reading on their cellphones
We've educated people to look for counterfeit goods, now we need to educate them to recognize counterfeit news PHOTO: Jacob Ufkes

2016 will be remembered for many things, but one trend that will definitely go down in infamy is fake news.

Fake news gained prominence during the US presidential election, potentially changing the election’s outcome and having real and serious repercussions. 

Linda Popky, president of Leverage2Market Associates and author of the book “Marketing Above the Noise,” spoke about fake news during a meet up of Bay Area marketers. Popky used the example of Pizzagate to illustrate her point.

Pizzagate emerged from a false news story and resulted in a North Carolina man firing an assault rifle in a family restaurant in Washington D.C. The man was seeking to rescue children who weren't there based on spurious "facts" he failed to substantiate.    

Fake news will soon affect all content creators: writers, marketers, podcasters, videographers and bloggers. Users of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. In other words: just about all of us.

The Fake News Repercussions: 3 Phases

The impact of fake news will evolve over three phases. Let’s consider each phase, and how content creators can adapt to each one.

Phase 1: Education and Awareness

Shortly after the election, Facebook and Google revealed new policies that took action against fake news sites. 

Around the same time, a study by Stanford University found 30 percent of students believed a fake Facebook account of Fox News was more trustworthy than the real (and “verified”) account.

In response to studies like these, we’ll see more training and education around spotting fake news which will likely result in audiences looking at all forms of media through a more critical lens and with a higher degree of skepticism.

In an interview with NPR, Sam Wineburg, professor at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education and lead author of the report said, "The kinds of duties that used to be the responsibility of editors, of librarians now fall on the shoulders of anyone who uses a screen to become informed about the world."

According to Popky, “We need to educate content consumers as to what's real and what's fake. This needs to happen on an industry-wide basis, perhaps in concert with platform providers like Facebook. We've educated people to look for counterfeit goods, now we need to educate them to recognize counterfeit news.”

How content creators can adapt: First, ensure that you are not fooled by fake news stories. Reference trusted clearinghouses of fake news, such as Snopes

Next, view the content you create through a more critical lens. When you curate or cite content, check that it’s from a reputable source. When you quote a statistic to support your marketing, dig deeper to validate that it’s authentic, valid and supportable.

Phase 2: Heightened Skepticism

As a result of the education and awareness about fake news, your “Average Joe” content consumer now plays the part of editor and librarian. In the past, he’d see a headline from CNN, USA Today or The New York Times and believe it without reading the article. Now, he’ll read the article and raise questions. 

If you’re a B2B marketer trying to sell something to Joe, he’ll be even more skeptical than before of clickbait. He'll question any claims or statistics that come directly from vendors. 

According to Popky, “Much lead generation content today is highly promotional. If that's the case, be sure you label it as such. Don't lure people in with supposedly vendor-neutral or educational content, only to then provide a thinly disguised sales pitch.”

Native advertising will also feel the impact of fake news.

In the same Stanford study, “more than 80 percent of middle schoolers believed that 'sponsored content' was a real news story.” When researchers asked why, they discovered students didn't understand what the “sponsored content” label meant.

“The rise of fake news means all sponsored content, including legitimate native advertising, will be suspect. This is becoming a more and more important part of many marketing campaigns, so this will impact brands that have invested in such campaigns or are planning to do so,” said Popky.

How content creators can adapt: When making claims in your content, cite third party references that back your claim. Instead of sharing your own perspective or opinion, let customers and brand advocates tell your story. Involve them in the co-creation of content, because prospective customers prefer to hear them over you. Finally, be highly transparent. Label content for what it is, not what you want it to be.

Phase 3: Settling Out

This phase is the hardest to project or categorize: will the “smartening” of consumers mean that fake news publishers die out? Or will fake news sites become more savvy and sophisticated, forcing consumers to up the ante? 

“It's unlikely the fake news sites will go away or behave better. That means better monitoring of the environment and better, more thoughtful response to incidents from brands and advertisers will need to happen as these incidents occur,” said Popky. 

How content creators can adapt: Continue to up your content game, as you’ve done in Phase 2. In addition, look to use forms of media that lend themselves to authenticity. For instance, live video is harder to manipulate and forge compared to other forms of media. Consider using live video broadcasts for customers to share their stories, or executives to share company news. 

Fake News: A Challenge for All of Us

How good are you at spotting fake news? Take this fake news quiz from BBC News and let me know how you scored. You can find me on Twitter at @dshiao.