Photo Credit: picjumbo
Over the past two weeks, there has been a major debate taking place about the role of fake news in the Facebook newsfeed. News articles that are totally made up, completely false, or purposely misleading have been showing up in the newsfeeds of Facebook users. The problem has become so noticeable that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has even had to make a public statement about the problem.
The fake news controversy
And while the Internet has always been a breeding ground for rumors and salacious details, this time something’s different because some people claim that all these fake news stories helped to elect President Trump. According to these fake news critics, most of these stories apparently were biased in favor of Trump and were launched by pro-Trump fake news websites.
As a result, “fake news” came out about a Clinton divorce, about new Clinton scandals, and about supposed endorsements of Trump from top celebrities and newsmakers. (When it comes to Kanye West’s bizarre post-election endorsement of Trump, though, you’ll have to make up your own mind).
So what does all this mean for social media marketers?
If a story doesn’t get into the Facebook newsfeed, it’s irrelevant
We probably wouldn’t even be having this discussion if people weren’t so reliant on social media for their news. If they turned on the TV or read newspapers and magazines, they would realize that these stories were completely ridiculous and fake. But something happens when you’re getting all your news via social media – it’s just too easy to click and share this article with your friends.
And that’s where the Facebook algorithm comes into play. Unlike the Google search algorithm, which places an emphasis on “authority,” the Facebook algorithm places an emphasis on “engagement.” That means an article from the New York Times needs to compete with an article from some rag-tag, non-credible media source that may nonetheless be getting a lot of engagement.
For social media marketers, it means that “likes” and “shares” are still all-important these days, because engagement is what matters. If your content is not getting liked and shared, it won’t show up in the newsfeed of users, and it will be all but invisible to Facebook users.
Being able to go viral is more important than ever these days
Another big advantage these fake news articles had was that they could start trending very easily due to a rabid core base of supporters who would share anything about their preferred presidential candidate. In some cases, these supporters even set up fake news websites to look exactly like mainstream news websites.
You can think of this in terms of “trend velocity.” Some trends take a bit of time to get rolling, but others seem to take off from nowhere and accelerate over time. By the time an article has reached a certain trend velocity (i.e. it has gone viral), the damage has already been down.
For marketers, there are several ways to boost trend velocity and improve the chances that a story will go viral. One is to double-down on writing eye-catching headlines. Another is to use popular hashtags, in order to become part of the broader conversation. And still one more tactic is to include eye-catching visuals with every social media post.
Going forward, expect more debate and conversation about the role of social media to filter out stories that are fake, wrong or outright inappropriate. Just keep in mind – any tweak that Facebook makes to its newsfeed algorithm is not going to just affect these fake news sites – it will also affect the type of branded content that also shows up in the newsfeed.