Fake it ‘til you make it: The unfortunate truth behind fake news

by Ewan Miller

Ethically dubious motives aside, fake news and content marketing face many of the same challenges. Ewan Miller unpacks the digital marketing techniques that fake news gets so right – no matter how wrong.

Over the last twelve months ‘fake news’– content which presents itself as factually accurate news but isn’t – has taken the world by storm.

These stories have spread not just because they’re sensationalist: The recent success of fake news is underpinned by a robust understanding of social media and marketing psychology alike, and reveals several paradigms of digital marketing content marketers would do well to consider.

1. The headline is everything

The explosive headline is at the core of fake news and takes advantage of the fact that studies have found that almost 60% of stories shared on social media weren’t read before they were shared. This means the majority of social shares take place based on the strength of the headline alone.

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This dynamic is at the core of success of fake news, as by their nature these stories begin to fall apart the further into the story the user reads.

The take away for content marketers is clear: We might do better to put the headline at the centre of our writing process, rather than treating it as an afterthought. Why devote just 5% of an article’s writing time to the most-read section of the page?

2. Community drives circulation

One of the most critical aspects to the contemporary phenomenon of fake news, is the way it’s deployed into specific corners of social networks, which are unlikely to challenge the ideas presented.

For example: The notorious ‘Pizzagate’ scandal was initially distributed to a known right-wing corner of the message board 4chan, where it could gain momentum and all-important advocates prior to engaging with the broader landscapes of Twitter and Facebook.

How to distribute content: It’s all in the delivery

For marketers, this should reinforce the value of highly targeted content, which utilises key influencers within communities to maximize circulation.

3. Trust is built from the trappings

When it comes to trust, first impressions matter. Studies show it takes just one tenth of a second to form a first impression about a person and for websites it’s even less – just 50 milliseconds.

This is why it can be valuable to produce high quality trappings – whether they be video intros, logos or website designs. Ensure your EDM looks professional and support your videos with well written descriptions because all the ‘small stuff’ plays a surprisingly significant role in building audience trust.

The most obvious example in fake news is the way creators duplicate the entire layout of existing news organisations, right down to their URLs, trading off their authority aesthetic. The lessons for more reputable sites is that these reusable assets are a very cost-effective way of amplifying your messaging across a variety of media.

What really matters

More than anything, what fake news authors understand is that there’s no point producing content if no one consumes it. By focusing on developing compelling headlines, efficiently targeting their messaging and building immediate trust through high quality furniture, they’ve successfully turned a very niche form of information dissemination into a global phenomenon.

How about we all take their techniques and use them for good?

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