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Four Ways to Distance Your Brand from Fake News

A witch hunt is playing out on social media. Consumers are holding businesses accountable for advertising through “fake news” sites. Critics and news publications are interrogating businesses for advertising choices on social media.

Fake news is the latest problem to contend with since the end of the 2016 US presidential election. Deliberately false information, or propaganda, is being identified and targeted by critics.

If branding is the collection of all the imagery and messaging of your company, what does it communicate when your business appears on a fake news website? Through both advertising and content marketing, consumers can come to conclusions about the values of your brand. If a brand promotes wholesome content and is featured on trustworthy sites, the brand will be perceived more positively.

Marketers must ensure that their brand stays in a digital neighborhood that represents the values of the company. If a brand is associated with controversial sites, or with sites that generate fake news, the brand can be tarnished. As noted in this piece by the UAB Collat School of Business, a lifetime of efforts building a professional reputation can be destroyed by one offensive tweet or advertisement.

Here are four tips to steer a company clear from sites that can have a toxic effect on their public image:

1. Verify the accuracy of content you intend to share.

As a part of a content marketing strategy, businesses often share content to entertain or inform their audience. From interesting recipe ideas to advocacy about important issues, these articles help businesses form connections with customers online. However, misrepresentative content can have an adverse effect on the relationship between a business and its customers.

Some material is obviously false, and it can be an embarrassment to associate a brand with such content. For example, articles in early 2015 claimed that Apple and Samsung had placed secret chips in their phones to steal personal information from users. The chips in question (NFC chips) are actually used for mobile payment systems, such as Apple Pay. Obviously, social media accounts that shared this story looked foolish in retrospect.

However, filtering out questionable material is an essential step in content marketing. Since sharing fake news can tarnish a brand, marketers should ensure that original content is accurate and relevant. They should also take care when sharing content, since a retweet can be seen as an endorsement of an article.

2. Take advantage of new tools on social media.

If audience members indicate that a shared piece of content is suspect, it is the responsibility of the social media manager to investigate that claim. Failing to do so could potentially lead to a backlash. Businesses should have a plan in place for how to use and maintain social media accounts.

There are tools that businesses can use to manage the content that they share. For instance, Slate’s Chrome extension helps users flag fake news on Facebook. Content marketers can take advantage of such tools to avoid posting controversial content. Furthermore, social media networks will likely implement new tools to help users screen out questionable content.

Social media clearly has an impact on the decisions consumers make in their lives. Evidence shows that even major decisions can be influenced by social media. Many critics contend that social media even helped determine the 2016 presidential election. It also has an effect on decisions we make in our personal lives, such as choosing which university to attend (which is one reason why university accounts are so active on social media). Given the impact that social media can have on consumers, carefully managing the messages shared by your company is a no-brainer

3. Prevent your business from appearing on questionable sites.

In November, Facebook and Google announced that they would seek to stop ads from appearing on fake news sites. This is great news for businesses who purchase ads online, since their brands will now cease to appear on many unscrupulous domains. Still, the placement of ads on some sites can send the wrong message to consumers.

Advertisements on sites that spread misinformation or propaganda can lead to negative feelings towards a business. An example of this problem in can be seen in Kellogg’s recent quarrel with Breitbart news. Kellogg’s pulled advertising from Breitbart, a controversial alt-right news source. Though this move was presumably made to avoid courting controversy, it alienated a portion of their consumer base. Special K cereal and Eggo waffles haven’t historically evoked a strong emotional reaction, but they do now. Breitbart spurred fans to boycott Kellogg’s products, creating a trending hashtag (#DumpKelloggs) and garnering 400,000 signatures on a petition.

In order to avoid costly negative PR, controversial websites should generally be avoided. While these sites have not been barred from hosting Facebook or Google advertisements, they are not always a good fit for a company. Some controversy might be a good way to engage followers, but it can also alienate a segment of your audience. Marketers should keep a pulse on trending topics, and update block lists to only appear on sites that reflect company values.

4.   Use blacklists for Google Ads.

Preventing fake news sources from advertising on a business’s site is another key to avoiding negative PR. There are some steps sites can take to limit shady advertisements from appearing on their site — but it requires some regular maintenance.

Judging from the steady growth of Google’s stocks, it is no secret that Alphabet controls most of the online advertising world. Fortunately, there are tools for advertisers that give them some control over where their brand can appear. In Google AdSense, users can choose to block specific URLs from displaying advertisements on their site. They can also regularly monitor which ads are appearing on their site.

However, it is impossible to filter out every domain for fake news, since there are far too many domains to manage. As The Consumerist points out, this is akin to playing “an internet-wide game of Whac-A-Mole”. The best compromise is to block historically problematic advertisers, and to investigate complaints by consumers.

The public is becoming much more vocal about the problem of fake news. By taking these simple measures, marketers can avoid major advertising and social media faux pas. Don’t put your company’s reputation on the line by failing to keep track of trends on social media.

Image: Photospin

Author Bio:

Bob Hand is a blogger from Boise, ID. He studied English at the University of South Carolina, and keeps a pulse on current issues in marketing, technology, and education. His hobbies include reading and collecting vinyl records. You can follow him on Twitter 

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