April Fool’s Day is not as fun anymore especially since fake news is now everywhere. In fact, for many consumers, it’s hard to identify what the truth actually is.
Fake news is a story that is false which is invented for traffic, ad revenue or a specific political purpose. It’s important to note that it’s not a mistake or a prediction that turned out wrong, but a lie that is spread purposefully. For example, it is not the famous headline “Dewey Beats Truman”, but “Hillary Clinton Adopts Alien Baby”. Now this phenomenon is not new, but Facebook and Twitter have made it easier for them to spread and actually become influential business model. This is made worse by the fact that 62% of adult Americans get their news primarily from social media which can be a very enclosed bubble of people that think exactly like them.
The top fake news stories for 2016 were about President Barack Obama banning the Pledge of Allegiance in schools; it received over 2 million Facebook shares, comments and reactions. Other top stories included Pope Francis endorsing Trump for president. Both were false. But velocity seems to now outweigh veracity.
Small business owners have a lot of opportunities to spread fake news to help their companies.
They can make claims about the effectiveness of their product (“It made Joe six times smarter after just three days.) They can make up false testimonials from fictitious customers (“Sally has been our loyal customer for over 10 years and has referred 87 new people to us.”). They can spread false news about the demise of their competitors (“Some people have been saying that they are going to be out of business within 6 months.”.
In my first book. You Need to Be a Little Crazy , I talk about the fake news I spread in my third start up: This included fictitious employees to make us look bigger with a more crowded warehouse to make us appear more successful. I did this because customers want to go with companies that are established. Like other fake news, I thought the ends justified the means. I was wrong.
Is spreading fake news just a harmless form of marketing?
I have learned that it isn’t. Marketing is a “point of view” (POV), not a knowing lie. As with most of the rest of life, there is the truth and there is just plain lying. For marketing to be effective in the long term, it needs to be authentic. The truth in this Internet connected world eventually comes out and it is much more powerful in the long run than fake news. The small business owner has to decide what kind of mission their company is built upon that they want their team members to get behind; Fake news or the truth? Then form your marketing around that principle.