Nothing highlights the changing nature of news better than, well… fake news. Since the US presidential election, it's been firmly at the top of the agenda because of its alleged role in turning voters towards Trump. So should brands be worried about fake news spilling over from politics to products and services—and, if so, what can we do about it?
The good news is there have already been some worthy attempts to stem the flow. Facebook and Google are already stopping ads from appearing on fake news sites. They're hitting the publishers of such content where it hurts: their advertising revenues. By removing the profit motive, these brands have taken an important first step. But even so, vetting sites is hard work, as Facebook and Twitter have found. And its effectiveness is sometimes questionable: though Google now monitors its ads, fake news still appears in your regular search results.
There’s a bigger problem here, though. Even if Facebook and Google's attempts eventually work, we've given them an immense responsibility. They're now, in effect, the gatekeepers of what content is 'real' and what is 'fake'. I'm not sure how this will play out in the long run. After all, there's no doubt that detecting fake news is hard work. It takes an understanding of the area in question—as well as the time and human resources to do it. There must be a better way.
And this is where brands could come in. They have resources, scale and expertise in all kinds of sectors. That makes them powerful in the fight against fake news.
A hidden opportunity for brands
It's no secret that every brand is an expert in something. Take a look at any corporate blog or social-media account and it should be plain to see. And it's here that there's an opportunity.
Most marketing teams have content writers, social-media managers and researchers—whether that's in-house or through an agency. These are all the people you need to start adding to the conversation in a meaningful way. Sure, you may have to move your focus from run-of-the-mill content to more reactive pieces, but it'll be worth it if the story gets picked up.
The key thing is, this isn't about upskilling or growing teams, it's about shifting our focus outwards. Then we might see tech brands or healthcare companies calling out fake news stories, rather than just ignoring them. We might even see brands commenting on, dare I say it, politics. Every company spends time and money on knowing its industry better than anyone else, and at the moment, that's a huge untapped resource.
So my question for brands and agencies is this: why don't we become the experts here? Then rather than worrying about whether—or, more likely, when—fake news will start hitting brands, we can take the fight to the purveyors of fake news. And we could create some incredible content and PR in the process.
Luke Janich is CEO of Red²