January 24, 2018 By Zak Mehan
The Australian Open probably ended up on more Americans’ radars than usual this year. Initially, this was because of the Cinderella story of Tennys (real name) Sandgren, a 26-year-old, born in Tennesse. Sandgren, ranked 92 in the world, found his way into the quarterfinals of one of the world’s top tournaments, defeating the fifth-ranked player Dominic Thiem. Then the tone of the story changed.
What’s the first thing people do when learning about a new public figure? Check out their social media profiles. Immediately screenshots of Sandgren’s tweets started to float around the internet, quickly finding their way into news coverage. Along with following a number of alt-right affiliated personalities like Sebastian Gorka and Mike Cernovich, Sandgren had tweeted that “the collective evidence [about pizzagate] is too much to ignore,” ruffling many media and left-wing feathers.
(For those who healthily put pizzagate out of mind, it was the conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was running/aiding a child trafficking ring out of a pizza shop in Northern Virginia, ultimately culminating in a man from North Carolina showing up to “self-investigate” with an AR-15 rifle).
Following the revelation, Sandgren was roundly excoriated by the media and social media users for the views expressed on his Twitter feed. The immediate reminder for everyone is that what is posted on social media will, often, never die. Be careful.
But of equal value is the observation – made by Sandgren himself in an earlier tweet – of the pattern of rapid social and traditional media canonization of a person or brand, investigation and discovery of controversial views and tearing the person down as quickly as they were built up. It’s a reminder to brands to do their due diligence around social media personalities they want to leverage as brand ambassadors, but also, that the danger of the spotlight has never been greater.
A little over three weeks in and 2018 is already a busy year for Facebook. Fresh off the back of the News Feed shake-up, which would see the frequency of publisher and brand content in users’ feeds fall, Facebook is doing more to define the role of news on Facebook.
The company announced that soon, ratings for news outlets will be determined by users – those reaching a higher proportion of users and earning higher ratings will be rewarded by a higher quality ranking. If you think it’s a dubious play for real news to be determined by the same users who fell for the fake news in the first place, you’re not alone.
Methodology aside, this may be significant in potentially picking some winners and losers in the media space, as well as identifying user sentiment about certain publications, both handy insights for media relations professionals. While we anticipate this won’t be revolutionary, it could also be eye-opening about audience potential on Facebook, a platform of focus for advertising pros but often eschewed by reputation managers.
Facebook is still toeing a delicate line. It doesn’t want to be the determinant of what truth is and seeks offer transparency about its drawbacks, like not necessarily being good for democracy, for example. It also finds itself under attack from multiple industries it touches, most recently coming under fire from the tech community by way of Apple’s Tim Cook and from the media sphere by Rupert Murdoch. We expect this year to continue apace.
Not to steal one from our colleagues in the Asia Pacific, but an interesting story from Singapore floated our way this week. To boost an initiative to educate and solicit feedback from citizens on the 2018 budget, the ministry of finance paid 50 social media influencers to post about the budget.
Pictures were typical Instagram photos: smiling or pensive subjects, picturesque scenes or washed out filters. The captions were long statements encouraging viewers to think about the new budget and send the government some feedback. Some tried to put a personal spin on it, linking it to spending and planning, while others dove straight to the point about the importance of an informed budget to a country.
While most people will see a ministry of finance and Instagram influencers as slightly strange bedfellows, we applaud the effort in thinking a little outside of the box to engage an often-hard-to-reach young audience. What’s more, while many governments (and the most conservative companies) still view social media as a threat, it’s important to remember these channels can be powerful amplifiers if used right. Sometimes a good offense is the best defense.
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