When lies and truth morph online, and the social media users can no longer tell what is real and what is not, the PR practitioners have a significant challenge to contend with.
How do you establish trust with your online communities? How much engagement is the “right” engagement, and how much is the corporate “speak” preferred to the personal, human “speak”?
Earlier this year, The Science Magazine published the biggest study ever carried out for a social media platform (Twitter in this case), and its conclusion is stark: “lies spread faster than the truth“.
The authors of this massive study analysed Twitter’s rumour cascades over a period of 11 years (from 2006 to 2017), covering 126,000 rumours spread by approximately 3,000,000 people.
What should worry us all are these two key findings:
False news reached more people than the truth; the top 1% of false news cascades diffused to between 1000 and 100,000 people, whereas the truth rarely diffused to more than 1000 people.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, robots accelerated the spread of true and false news at the same rate, implying that false news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it.
So what can you do to ensure your version of the events/story is heard and listened to? When can automation and technology support your creative efforts to cut through the falseness of it all?
1. BE A BUILDER
Online communities are very important for any brand or organisation. Stop throwing stuff out there in the ether – video/audio/subtitled/written – unless you have someone at the other end to, effectively, engage and explain what you mean, what you’ll do and how you’ll do it.
Use a plain language that can resonate and reach as many of your target segments as possible. There are so, so many brands and organisations on my timeline (either in the form of ads or shares of those I follow) who do not even bother to reply or, when they do, they do so 24-48 hrs later.
Your brand/organisation needs to reach out first because you need the consumers’ custom more than any consumer could possibly need you.
2. RESPECT YOUR ONLINE COMMUNITIES
There was a shocking Twitter spat earlier this month between Essex and Leeds Beckett universities – what started like amicable online banter and fun, soon turned into borderline slander. And this was happening while many of the two universities’ followers, students, prospective students and professors were watching it unfolding.
Social media has brought us all – brands, organisations, influencers, users and trolls – together. Imagine it being like a busy Sunday market, with thousands of people walking through the stalls and chatting to each other, while trying to draw everyone else’s attention to what they are saying. It will be noisy and the pleasure of buying, watching the world go by or having a relaxed afternoon while enjoying a variety of produce, would soon disappear. What would be the easiest options for the market visitors:
- To leave
- To cover their ears (“I’m not interested in reading this”)
- To find a quieter corner (“I can relate to this”)
- To add to the noise (trolls)
Remember to say “thank you” and reply to those followers who reach out to you. Being nice costs nothing and, one day, you may need every one of these online followers to spread “your” truth, your version of the story, or news about your brand.
A brand’s/organisation’s online presence is seldom authentic; it is a crafted image – one built by anyone, starting with one person and ending up with dozens.
Brands’ authenticity and “voice” online often depend on who’s in charge of the social platforms and on whether they have the “freedom” to engage their followers online.
We are surrounded by fake accounts and news online – what will always stick with any brand’s/organisation’s followers is the online style and manner of engagement.
The more you talk and engage with people, the more likely they are to want to talk to you. Use the channels you have wisely and remember that the quality of communication is far more important than quantity of it.
And be nice.