DigitalMarketing.com on how Click-bait headlines will only shatter your brand’s reputation.
Did you read that article your co-worker emailed you about the child-trafficking ring being run out of City Hall? Well – neither did your co-worker.
As it turns out, the actual content below the headline doesn’t matter. At least, not to your co-worker, the thousands of other people who’ve seen the headline, or the authors and publishers of the article. The headline alone got the public’s attention, and it got it spreading the news.
According to a study conducted in 2016, nearly 60 percent of the links shared across social media platforms aren’t even opened. No one is clicking, and yet significant portion of these links to articles no one visits are characterized by Facebook and Twitter as being legitimate based upon the number of shares and likes they’ve accumulated. Perhaps most alarmingly, people who see these links will never un-see them, and a noteworthy percentage of them will continue to believe that the information they contain is accurate, even if the publications issue retractions or their assertions are proven to be false.
This effect is due to a powerful psychological phenomenon called “belief echoes”: a person’s first impression of a subject will overrule most of the subsequent contradictory information about that subject, especially if that first impression supports preexisting opinions. The first time we hear a lie, a part of our brain will still give credence to that lie even when we are shown evidence proving its falsehood. That lie still has the power to influence our actions and attitudes even when the rational part of our brain is in full possession of the facts. That link your co-worker sent will later be exposed as a blatant fiction with each accusation systematically and thoroughly invalidated. Nevertheless, you’ll still feel uneasy every time you drive by City Hall.
This is why “fake news” is so effective when used for unscrupulous purposes, and simultaneously so dangerous to the public trust. When the public is introduced to a subject, that first impression will forever color its emotional reaction to that subject. From a digital marketing perspective, allowing consumers to gain and retain an inaccurate or low-value impression of a business may taint that business for years – and possibly for the life of the brand.
When brands integrate fake news strategies into their marketing solutions, the results can be highly destructive simply because their goals are entirely different from those of the shadowy lobbying organizations or political action committees behind socially-charged fake news articles. The fundamental purpose of fake news is to sow the seeds of doubt about a particular principle in the mind of the public. A brand’s goal is to drive traffic towards itself and increase sales. Yes – fake news gets attention. However, a brand whose marketing approach causes the public to doubt its veracity is only committing slow suicide. And as we’ve seen, consumers don’t even have to be in full possession of the facts to form a negative opinion of a brand – they only need to see a few questionable headlines.
How Fake News Affects Digital Marketing
When your marketing strategy emphasizes click volume over providing valuable, honest content, you diminish the overall trustworthiness of your entire brand. You’ve probably seen sponsored content that has the following phrases in the headlines:
- “You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!”
- “What He Did Will Shock You.”
- “You’ll be Amazed When You See These Results!”
It’s a truth self-evident that once you click on those links you will be neither amazed nor shocked – except that you were briefly suckered into believing that those articles would deliver useful information.
But why do fake news articles – the ones that claim elected officials were embroiled in human trafficking rings and the “deep state” simply conspired to cover it up – have rabid adherents long after the messages are revealed to be utter fabrications? Why isn’t their credibility damaged in the eyes of their readers the way that a brand’s is for posting eye-catching yet hollow and deceptive content?
Again, it’s because the two fake news strategies are completely different. The political fake news articles are giving their readers exactly what they want – alarming information supporting their existing dogmatic social beliefs. It doesn’t matter if the information was nothing but bald-faced lies and is ultimately wholly debunked; if enough people want to believe it’s true, then it’s functionally true.
The click-bait content, on the other hand, simply fails to deliver by any stretch of the imagination. The reader won’t be shocked or amazed, and isn’t given any new information at all. The content promises to inspire an emotional response that its audience won’t have.
While every business wants high search engine rankings and a large audience, using cheap, click-bait tactics to achieve those goals is not only an unsustainable strategy, it’s a damaging one. It makes your brand look desperate and dishonest; it will color consumers’ impression of your business; and consumer “belief echoes” will tune out any corrective measures you may launch. Once the public associates you with that approach, it will be very difficult – if not impossible – to remove the stain from your brand.
How You Can Protect Your Brand
Developing an authentic, informative, and engaging digital marketing strategy from the beginning is vital to building public trust. Although fake news and misleading marketing practices may yield an immediate influx of traffic, long-term confidence in your brand can only be achieved by using the following tactics:
- Communicating your brand’s mission, values, and goals throughout your entire marketing narrative.
- Employing a uniform message across all platforms.
- The dismantling of marketing and communications silos – your marketing and public relations messages must be a single voice.
- Emphasizing the development of engaging content that is enjoyable and useful to your audience.
- Integrating research-supported information and statistics into your messaging solutions to create a brand story that inspires confidence.
One of the best ways to ensure your digital marketing approach will yield long-term positive results is to use the expertise of a professional consultant. From identifying your optimal audience, to structuring an effective content strategy, to measuring the outcomes, a digital marketing professional will be equipped to position your brand as a trustworthy resource.
Navigating a media landscape paved with fake news is incredibly difficult in the current social climate, but doing so successfully will allow your brand to generate significant returns for years to come.
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