February 21, 2018 By Zak Mehan
America was, again, gripped by heartbreak after another senseless and deadly shooting, this time at a high school in Florida. And, as has become the habit, an outpouring of politicized vitriol immediately followed.
Before you let that ruin your faith in humanity, know that many of the accounts sharing these divisive messages were not human. Bot tracking tools created by researchers and advocacy groups found that after the news of the shooting broke, bot activity focused in almost immediately on shooting-related terms or terms related to the tragedy.
The bots shared messages that were politically divisive, often using doctored imagery or pushing hashtags related to the event and gun control legislation that would serve as rallying points for further conversations.
But as well as propagating misinformation, there were additional efforts to discredit existing sources. For example, one user started posting doctored screenshots of tweets purporting to have been sent by Miami Herald reporter Alex Harris to students during the shooting. One showed Harris supposedly asking for images of dead bodies and another, which vent viral across white nationalist groups and forums, asking about the ethnic background of the shooter.
The way the groups behind these misinformation campaigns work is fascinating and terrifying. They respond immediately to an event, using incendiary language to stoke engagement. They cross-promote posts to make sure the messaging is highly visible and seen as having strong support once human users actually see the post. At which point, for the human users, what is to say this isn’t the reality of the case. Just like in the case of the doctored tweets from Alex Harris, a racially-slanted but fake tweet was still able to garner thousands of likes and retweets and inspire users to tweet hatefully at Harris. Before it can be fully refuted, the new reality already exists.
Pesky cord-cutting millennials are driving the transition to streaming and on-demand television services, eroding ratings and, of course, ad revenues. So, during this year’s Winter Olympics, NBC is going big on meeting their (potential) audiences wherever they can and with whatever might catch their attention.
The important thing to note here is the diversity of NBC’s approach. It is packaging up major moments for news-breaking on social media, such as Shaun White’s gold medal run, but also hunting for the minor, entertaining ones. A video of a team of workers chasing a walkie-talkie as it rolled down a hill has drawn 1.5 million views on Facebook.
Social media has become a source of ad revenue for NBC but it is still seen as having tremendous value in driving viewers’ attention to the main event at hand – the games being broadcast through NBC properties. We note some similar approaches in how we advise clients to leverage social media during events.
The main goal is often to highlight the company’s activities at the event, which should always be kept front of mind. But this should be done in creative ways, offering entertaining or informative teasers that help build attention for your brand. And for the viewers at home, it’s the little nuggets that go on during the event that bring it to life. Coordination between on-the-ground staff and designers/schedulers is essential for turning around relevant and engaging quickly. Oh, and sponsoring the odd post never hurts!
By now we’ve all heard that Mark Zuckerberg is on a mission to make Facebook engagement “more meaningful.” But the way the algorithm adjustments have manifested in the wild is leading to some very frustrated users.
Take Buzzfeed’s Katie Notopoulos who has been using the updates to spread “a reign of terror over [her] friends and family” in the form of a video of a twenty-something showing off her bland Brooklyn apartment. The video was met with a slew of comments complaining about how boring it was. This engagement, even though it was decidedly negative, kept the video at the top of the feeds of the reporter’s Facebook friends for nearly two weeks.
In Notopoulos’ case, the stakes are low – it’s just an annoying video. But this anecdote provides key insight into how the new algorithm actually works. Comment is now king on Facebook, and brands looking to adapt their content to the new system should keep some key points in mind.
First, content that elicits strong reactions from users will stick around a lot longer. Great if the reactions are positive but less great if you consider that the lifespan of negative or damaging content could increase significantly. Monitoring reactions to content is about to get a lot more important. Secondly, companies will want to take a serious look at how they approach content. Under the new system, the content that performs best will open up discussion among users without provoking incendiary responses. It might be time to revisit brand voice guidelines on social media.
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