As marketers gain unprecedented access to consumers, consumers are also tasked with sifting through unparalleled sources of information. Between poorly executed April Fool’s pranks, to genuinely creative campaigns, to consumer created hoaxes, whether they realize it or not, customers are constantly discerning credible information from opinions and even flat out lies.
While many marketing and communications professionals engage in some level of media monitoring and social media tracking, it’s time for them to reevaluate existing approaches, leveraging social sentiment analysis to not only better understand their audiences, but also anticipate and respond to potential negative campaigns and misinformation as it appears online.
Marketers need to recognize their consumers exist in an online environment fueled by competing and often inaccurate narratives around products, services, news, thought leaders and more.
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Why Disinformation Matters
According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in late 2020, about half of U.S. adults say they get news from social media “often” or “sometimes,” and this use is spread out across a number of different sites. When you couple that with the fact that another study showed online users were 2.5 times more likely to engage with unreliable sources than they were in 2019, it is easy to see the rising challenges the country faces when it comes to media literacy and source discernment.
Many Americans are familiar with the concept of “fake news” and may even be inundated with hyperbolized opinions presented as facts from their connections on social media. Yet as discussions around fake news become more and more prevalent, it can be easy to become desensitized to the issue, especially when it extends beyond your wacky aunt’s Facebook post. Many internet denizens don’t even realize the extent of disinformation campaigns targeting brands on the internet with the sole purpose of sowing discord, manipulating trust and even potentially disrupting sales.
For example, early this year when an influencer campaign went awry for popular beauty brand Sephora, the hashtag #BoycottSephora quickly popped up across Twitter. But beyond the typical calls to action, Cyabra found that fake accounts were created specifically around the time the hashtag went viral, almost exclusively engaging in the discussion, even if it only lasted a day or so. Today, brand marketing teams not only face the challenge of authentically engaging with their audiences and anticipating their needs, but they must combat and anticipate bot campaigns, as well.
What Marketers Can Do
When it comes to winning the war against disinformation, the best first step marketers can take is building upon something they are likely already doing — developing a deep understanding of their audience.
This analysis goes beyond demographics. While it is helpful to know a consumer’s age or level of education, savvy marketers can take it a step further by doing what they can to meet their audience where they are, taking a look at their values and behaviors. As such, when unusual or atypical interactions with brands occur, it is easy for marketers to discern the real from the fake and quickly and proactively get ahead of bot driven discussions before they have a chance to create a significant impact.
Marketers can take these practices further by identifying the most influential fake accounts and key players, examining their profiles and online presences to trace the spread and influence of their content. Doing so allows marketers to examine how the disinformation and subsequent discourse spreads, empowering them to make informed decisions going forward.
Agile marketing teams can typically identify fake accounts by taking a quick look at their content, followers/friends and engagement. Even things like lack of a profile photo or content can be a good first indicator of a fake account. But brands looking for a more effective approach can take advantage of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) tools to get a bigger picture of which accounts are dominating the discussion and more importantly, what connections they share with other authentic and inauthentic authors. These platforms also identify patterns in behavior, empowering brands to stop disinformation before the next campaign comes to fruition.
The marketing industry needs to confront the role disinformation and bad actors play in swaying social sentiment and shaping consumers’ susceptibility to these types of attacks. If marketers truly want to understand trends and online discussion around their products and services, they need to take a deeper look at the conversations taking place and who is participating. Not only will incorporating disinformation monitoring into brands’ marketing strategies help brands craft thoughtful responses to crises as they take place online, but it will also empower them to make proactive choices that combat negative campaigns before they have a chance to make an impact.
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