There has always been a fringe element in society; and now, Social Media has provided an unwitting channel to help advance their agendas. Short of regulating Social Media explicitly, can anything be done about it?
In the traditional channels, there have long been built-in checks-and-balances to prevent abuse.
- With so few TV and Radio stations, newspapers, and magazines, these channels developed policies for who they would accept as an advertiser. And as journalists, their reporting was both objective fact-checked. It was hard for fringe elements to squeeze in.
- The cost of advertising would self-limit the reach of these groups.
- Government laws and regulations (health, financial, libel, and consumer protection) would limit what an advertiser could say, if the fringe group actually had the money to spend.
- Industry groups (advertising standards Canada, for example) would further define acceptable ads, while also providing a forum for complaints.
The internet, and Social Media in particular, have rendered these checks and balances impotent. We now live in the million-channel universe; anyone can create a website or a Social Media profile. And anyone can post their opinion or comment on just about any post.
The challenge for organizations
The challenge for bona fide organizations occurs on many fronts; how to cut through the noise? How to successfully fight a rearguard defense against these fringe elements? And how to differentiate their “truth,” when fringe groups often use these same techniques to propagate their truth? These challenges ring especially true for regulators, but also for academics, public health officials, and financial institutions, amongst others.
Some ideas to prove legitimacy:
- Use referenced evidence in all claims.
- Provide a chain of authority to prove legitimacy. For example, a financial institution may note they are regulated by OSFI and insured by the CDIC. A broker might note they are regulated by IIROC.
- Build a strong Social Media community around the organization. Not only will this provide legitimacy in and of itself, but this “tribe” can advocate on your behalf if needed.
- Use a content marketing/thought leadership approach to provide depth for those who need it.
- Use celebrity spokespersons of your own.
- Monitor (and actively address) Social Media fringe messages with facts and details of your own.
- Report fringe posts and initiatives to “traditional” regulators when appropriate. Flag their posts to Social Media sites when they appear contrary to the sites’ terms of service.
- Spend on advertising: fringe groups often do not have the budget, and compete only in free venues.
As Social Media has become ubiquitous, and fringe groups have developed increasing sophistication using it, the problem of legitimacy will continue to grow. Indeed, unless legitimate organizations actively defend their turf – and educate their target audiences – they will eventually sink below the radar, and be unable to fulfill their mandate.
The challenge for individuals
For individuals, there is a similar challenge: who to believe? The answer seems simple: friends and family, traditional authorities, government, celebrities, and Google. And not in any particular order. And so, unfortunately many people are taken in by financial hucksters from Nigeria, celebrities who are shills for commercial sponsors, “Google” medical remedies, racist rants, and dubious product pitches with even more dubious testimonials.
Decoding the claims is not that difficult, but it does take some work. Consider these questions:
- Does the claim sound too good to be true, or does the claim try too hard to be legitimate?
- What is the basis for a particular claim? Is it peer-reviewed published research? Legal statutes? Industry regulations? Or maybe just someone’s opinion?
- What is the background of the spokesperson? Are they a hired mouthpiece – or do they have the education and authority to make the claim?
- What are the motives of the spokesperson and their organization? Is it profit, or to promote a particular religious view, or promote a public service?
- Can the claim be verified by an independent (and trusted) third party?
- What is the Social Media buzz, especially by the detractors? While it is too easy to create phony posts and sham reviews, what are the detractors saying? And are there any posts by trusted organizations setting the facts straight?
In today’s loud, hypercharged marketplace, competing for attention is becoming harder and harder. Marketers should remember that it isn’t just how much louder they must shout to be heard above the fringe, but that it is the quality of their arguments and quality of their evidence – that will change a cynic into a believer.
This week’s action plan: What concrete steps can your organization take to demonstrate legitimacy? And what other ideas do you have to either showcase legitimacy – or sniff out the fraud?