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Fake News Fallout: Could it Affect Your Business?

By: | November 28th, 2016

If a presidential election is the ultimate marketing campaign, then some of the strategies and techniques will filter to the commercial world, including the millions of businesses that rely on their Internet presence to reach existing customers and reach out to prospects. One of the biggest issues from this year’s elections is fake news.

Hyperbole and half-truths – statements that have an element of truth but maybe not in the context in which they were made – have existed since humans began communicating. But the Internet has extended their reach and lifetimes. If any statement made anywhere in the world can be archived electronically, it can live forever. And with the explosive growth of social media in a highly connected world, information can flow like a swollen stream during a flashflood.

Google and Facebook have come under close scrutiny as conduits for fake news. In a sense, they go together because Facebook enables its users to share something without limit, and the company has always considered itself to be a platform that would have its users moderate the content. If a lot of Facebook users are sharing a certain article and its associated website, the hits will register with Google, and the higher the number of hits, the higher the ranking.

Going viral to get the hits is every business’ goal, but the polarizing political campaign and the exploitation of social media brought everything to a head. Google recently changed its algorithms to place a premium on truth. Penguin looks closely at spam, and it will rank each page individually, based on the sources of the links on that page. Any articles that you write or repost must be clearly true and relevant to your website – and your business.

But your rankings are not the concern of those who post fake news. The websites associated with their posts can, in fact, benefit from going viral, especially when it comes to Facebook shares that raise the hits. They get more advertising revenues as visits to their website increase.

News reports – from “mainstream” media – indicate that while Facebook chair and CEO Mark Zuckerberg didn’t think that posts had any effect on the elections, employees have been sending suggestions to product managers on how to improve Facebook’s powerful news feed – the streams of status updates, articles, photos and videos that users typically share. A fake story shared millions of times can reach tens of millions of people, but if a correction is somehow issued, it never gets the same visibility.

Clearly, Facebook is reassessing its role as a communications channel and how it will manage the platform. Whatever solution it comes up with, money will likely play a role. While Facebook may have limited control over what can be posted, it most certainly can reject advertising related to fake or objectionable news sites. That could reduce, if not eliminate, incentives to create sites for fake news. You can watch or read your own trusted news media outlets to see how it all plays out.

Google could follow suit in monitoring the content and not recognizing fake news sites for its rankings. Some Google pundits believe the company will also start using humans to vet news sites, but it will face problems with complex or nuanced search terms. Certain strings of terms can still bring up fake news or posts riddled with falsehoods. It could also run into problems when fake news purveyors try to spoof known satirical websites.

How can you protect your business’ name and reputation going forward? You should monitor your company’s name for any mentions on the Internet and respond promptly to falsehoods and inaccuracies. You should also verify any news item or comment you want to post to make sure it’s accurate. You can see if there’s anything about a news item on Snopes and check out other “watchdog” sites. Some are better than others. You can also do your own Google search on the topic of a news report that shows up on any social media site.

We can help you set up Internet monitoring systems so you know when you’re mentioned and what’s being said. We invite you to contact us at 888-978-9254, or by sending an email using our website contact form. We love to talk about marketing, best practices for SEO programs, brand messaging and content strategy.