Consultants looking to combat the scourge of fake news can use a candidate’s authenticity to break through on social media, according to a comms expert.
In a speech Thursday, Hillary Clinton blamed the “epidemic of malicious fake news and false propaganda that flooded social media over the past year” for costing her the presidential election. “It’s now clear that so-called fake news can have real world consequences,” she said during an address at Sen. Harry Reid’s retirement event in the Capitol.
Clinton isn’t alone in that opinion. Many observers have lamented how this cycle saw the proliferation of traffic-chasing, fake information sites, whose influence was augmented with the help of social media. The result was a uniquely challenging media environment for campaigns.
Roughly 60 percent of Americans now get their news from social media, which is primarily where fake news is distributed. Even President-elect Trump wasn’t above distributing stories on his Twitter feed that were fake.
That’s why campaigns going forward need to put a higher priority on using paid or boosted social media posts, according to Arianna Jones, SVP Public Relations at Revolution Messaging. “When fake news became a thing, it was because people were looking elsewhere [for their information]. They did not want the traditional media,” she recently told C&E.
Jones, who served as the Bernie Sanders campaign’s deputy communications director, said that social helped the Democrat “cut through the clutter.”
In fact, Sanders’ personality, or authenticity, helped organically boost his social media content, she said. “One of the biggest things was that he was authentic.”
Jones cited an instance where Sanders handed his communications team a 10-minute script for a digital video — blowing way past what most experts consider to be a watchable length online.
“He was one that proved that you can elevate the conversation and be talking about the issues that matter in detail. You can break best practices, and go all in and give folks all of the information, and not sugar coat it or [cut] it into snippets,” she said. “And people will meet you there.”
Moreover, Sanders sat with the staffer designated to tweet so that his voice would translate to his followers on the platform. Campaigns, she added, shouldn’t have “27 people people approving one tweet.”
Jones also said that campaigns need to be open to pulling some of their messaging from their social media followers. “‘Feel the Bern’ was not a campaign-created slogan,” she said. “It was about listening to the people who were organically creating this content.”
Another lesson from 2016 was that “people want gritty.” She added: “Gritty is the new glossy.”
Now, media consultants have echoed Jones’ assessment.
“We see it in focus groups: people want less slickly produced spots,” John Rowley, a Democratic media consultant, told C&E in a recent interview. “Ad credibility is huge, they want stuff that’s documented. The BS detector for political ads is bigger than ever.”
Rowley added: “I think Obama ushered in a new era of authenticity in politics that every consultant in every medium has to be aware of — and Trump benefited from it.”