July 11, 2018 By Zak Mehan
This week, we watched two trends we’ve covered coalesce in one story; the dying allure of “virality” and a push toward authenticity in social media.
One of the latest (questionably) viral trends on social media centered on the hashtag #WalkAway. The hashtag was intended to serve as a rallying cry for liberals to “walk away” from the Democratic Party.
It picked up substantial traction but largely with conservative public figures and commentators and, you guessed it, a whole bunch of bots.
Leaving filter bubbles aside for the time being, this situation is somewhat emblematic of why viral moments are no longer considered the Holy Grail of digital communications.
The lacking authenticity behind many viral moments – from the political to the branded – can make them ring hollow. Marketers have cottoned on to this and social media companies are doing their part to rout fake accounts from their ranks.
Twitter, for example, has launched a reinvigorated campaign against fake accounts. While this could be a worry for the company, potentially deflating the number of users, it may also enhance the user experience by re-establishing authenticity to the content, and movements, users see in their feeds.
In a time when politics have seemingly pervaded every aspect of the media and people are encouraged to (over)share aspects of their lives on digital channels, individuals – and your employees – often overtly align themselves with political views or groups online. These views can sometimes create tensions in the workplace and beyond.
One recent example of this came from the World Cup in Moscow. Croatian defender Domagoj Vida was nearly banned from this week’s semi-final against England and an assistant coach was let go after posting a video together dedicating the weekend’s victory over Russia to Ukraine. The swipe at the host nation was not taken lightly by the home crowd, forcing an apology from the team and player and likely making fans’ time in Moscow slightly more uncomfortable.
Closer to home, defense technology company Northrop Grumman found itself in hot water after investigative journalism outlet ProPublica dug into one of the individuals featured in images of the protests in Charlottesville, VA last summer. The outlet discovered that he had been to multiple protests in the past year, was connected to an organization call the Rise Above Movement and had security clearance as a member of the aerospace engineering team at the defense contractor, which has since terminated his employment.
This latter example is not only a powerful lesson about how an individual employee’s views can place a company’s reputation in hot water but also the lasting trail of content available to identify individuals in the digital age. ProPublica used images and footage to obtain the individual’s identity, before digging into his online presence and affiliations. A dual warning to companies: conduct robust due diligence on prospective employees (especially those in sensitive positions) and make sure your employees know the company policies about how to present and conduct themselves online.
News about immigration policy has continued to make headlines, and hence web traffic, during the recent rollout of the “Zero Tolerance” border policy. On June 19th, stories about immigration received attention from 200,000 people per hour – making this the highest-traffic political issue aside from President Trump himself.
In turn, publishers have written over 700 articles to keep up with the demand since June 13 and saw a major uptick in social media interactions with their posts covering the topic. This is according to data analyzed by Parse.ly, an analytics company.
This creates a “chicken and egg” question around what drives the news agenda. Is the surge in web traffic and social media engagements a result of increased coverage, or is the increased coverage a response to more opportunities for engagement?
Parse.ly is seeking to answer that question with a new tool for publishers called Currents, allowing publishers to further understand and analyze this type of data and measure an audience’s attention span (that is, how much time users are spending reading articles).
Make no mistake, data processing is changing both editorial behaviors and priorities within the newsroom. While this kind of data is certainly helpful to publishers looking to respond to readers’ appetites, there’s always a danger that this reactive approach to publishing can result in popular topics drowning out less popular (but still often worthy) stories.
In an age dominated by click bait, this narrative is of course not new, but increasingly sophisticated tools could shape the news agenda on a scale not yet seen before.
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