Having a fake news strategy is a now must for campaigns — even those running down-ballot.
Hillary Clinton credited an “epidemic” of fabricated stories circulating online with helping derail her presidential bid.
While some studies dispute Clinton’s assertion, there’s a growing understanding of the danger posed to the democratic process by fabricated information packaged as news reporting.
In fact, the news industry itself is actively trying to combat the growth of fake news. For instance, the Wall Street Journal has been publishing animated videos detailing how its reporters got scoops on high-profile stories. These videos are meant to highlight the professional challenges journalists face in bringing factual information to their audiences.
Campaigns would be wise to do start thinking of how they can engage their own audiences, top strategists say.
A fake news strategy starts with being prepared, according to Ginny Badanes, a GOP strategist who now works for Microsoft.
“These things don’t completely blow up overnight,” Badanes said Thursday at C&E’s CampaignTech East conference in D.C. “You shouldn’t be finding out about this because a reporter calls you for your opinion. You need to arm your comms folks with the ability to find out what’s coming.”
She recommended campaigns engage social media listening services early in the race, but warned that not every fake news story warrants a response. “If it’s not going to spread, maybe it’s best to leave it alone,” she said.
If a campaign does engage on a fake news story, Joe Fuld, founder of the Campaign Workshop, recommended having native content to use as ammunition. “You have to have real content that is on your site that engages,” he said. “Publish often.”
He added: “You can use paid communications to boost that, [including] a key-word strategy.”
Meanwhile, Michael Moschella, head of analytics at DK Analytics, said campaigns should think of fake news like a virus.
Data, timing and content can isolate a story in a social network and prevent it from spreading. “What really matters is who is driving the conversation,” he said. “You have to drill down and find out who the communities are.”
But Moschella warned campaigns and consultants not to mistake fake news as just a trend. “For a long time we’ve been at a place in democracies where campaigns and parties do create their own news,” he said. “It’s just a question about whether you’re good at it.”