A strange shift in how news is consumed is occurring. More and more people are saying that Facebook or Twitter is the source of their information. The issue with this change is that the quality of “news” and the veracity of information are under constant threat. What is fact and what is fiction or near-fiction has become ever harder to deduce. (Especially given that items posted by friends or followers carry a certain prima facie level of legitimacy given one’s relationships with those individuals.)
In June, BuzzFeed – a popular a site that describes itself as “”the viral web in realtime” – posted a piece that, of course, went viral entitled, “8 Foods We Eat In The U.S. That Are Banned In Other Countries.” The problem is that the article was highly misleading as evidenced by NPR’s subsequent debunking. The BuzzFeed piece was updated, but cut-and-pasted variants of it continue to circulate and be re-posted like the undead roaming the planet.
The kind of misinformation propagated by BuzzFeed can be devastating to a company and its associated brands. It also speaks to two critical functions every organization, including professional services operations, should be actively doing:
1) Monitoring both traditional news channels and what is rocketing around in the echo-chamber of social media as “news;” and
2) Publishing and pushing information to interested audiences through social media while, in the process, building a repository of brand knowledge on these ecosystems.
If one accepts the proposition that consumers are increasingly relying on social media for their news, then the case for a pro-active social media news strategy is self-evident.
A further issue is that a cogent argument can be made that the average news consumer’s truth-filter has been inexorably altered by the rise of sites like BuzzFeed. These properties aren’t designed with what editor’s feel is most important in mind, but rather based purely on what will get the most clicks. (The same blogger who posted the articles on foods banned in the U.S. has also reported on such hard-hitting issues as “24 Hunky Actors That Will Make You Wish Time Travel Was Real.”) Their allure is similar to that of supermarket tabloids tempting readers with unfathomable and/or irresistible tales. The problem is that, just as with the incident described above, readers are increasingly being fed bad information.
Maintaining a strong presence on social media allows for quick-strike response and also allows companies to build individual user allies who follow their news feeds and consume core messaging side-by-side with pictures of grumpy cats.
The allure of social media is multifaceted. Accessibility (especially on the mobile platform) and the mix of interesting, banal and informative content in “feed” form create a magazine populated by our own interests. It’s admittedly an addictive activity. However, the shift in perception from a leisure activity to a primary news source has real implications for professional service companies.