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Marketing Viewpoint by Ruth Winett

Tips for Counteracting Fake News

Political parties in 70 large and small countries spread disinformation, according to an Oxford University study. With fake news everywhere, how do businesses compete when their competitors use social media to spread fake news? In "The Problem with Believing What We Are Told," Gary Marcus and Annie Duke explain why fake news is compelling. Their article indirectly provides tips for creating business communications that stand out in the midst of fake news.

Why do we believe fake news?

  • People "assume truth first and ask questions later." People believe what their senses tell them, and language is ""an extension [of people's] senses." However, language "is much more open to manipulation," the authors report.
  • When people are distracted, they are more likely to believe fake news than when they are attentive.
  • Fake news is often repeated, and this makes it more believable. Participants were as likely to believe false statements that were repeated three times as they were to believe true statements uttered once, according to a 1977 Temple University study.
  • Attaching pictures to false statements makes them more believable. Participants shown photos of giraffes believed a caption asserting that these were the only animals that cannot jump.
  • Adding ""vivid language" or unimportant details make lies spread further on social media. Use of "moral or emotional" words, such as "hate," "destroy," and "blame" increases the likelihood that the fake news will spread on social media.
  • The widespread use of social media assures the rapid spread of fake news. Fake news stories are 70% more likely to be retweeted than true stories, according to a 2018 MIT study reported in Science. Authors Marcus and Duke say retweeting occurs because "social networks…feed on human vulnerability: our need for approval, affection and positive feedback."

How to counteract fake news

While fake news and misleading information are everywhere in business, as well as politics, your company can offset the misleading information of competitors by making your own communications more effective:

  • Hire staff who know how to get maximum impact from social media campaigns, and provide them with adequate resources.
  • Create compelling messages so that people pay attention to your messages and are not distracted by others' fake news. This means addressing the needs of your target audience.
  • Make your messages concrete. Many people are visual learners. Use graphics—pictures and other images. Also include case studies, plus examples and testimonials from real people. Include statistics if available. All of these devices will make your messages more concrete and, thus, more memorable.
  • Repeat the message—one-time messages ("spray and pray") do not work. Invest in multiple promotional campaigns and ads using a variety of social and traditional media outlets.

It is hard to compete when your competitors make attractive, but untruthful, claims. When competitors circulate fake news, note why fake news works, and adopt the above strategies to give your own communications more impact.

Winett Associates helps companies understand
their customers and markets.

Copyright © 10/19 Ruth Winett. All rights reserved.

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