Here’s what real brands can learn from fake news

Fake news has never been bigger – when it isn’t the news you’re reading that’s fake, it’s probably news calling other news fake. And according to Trump, even CNN and the BBC have been at it. Confusing? Well, not usually. Stories such as a ‘Obama Signs Executive Order Banning The Pledge of Allegiance In Schools Nationwide’ and ‘Trump Offering Free One-Way Tickets to Africa and Mexico for Those Who Wanna Leave America’ weren’t hard to see through, but still managed to gain millions of clicks.

And that means they’re lucrative for their creators. That Obama Pledge of Allegiance canard earned more than 2.2 million Facebook shares – which translates to serious traffic and even more serious advertising dollars. Unsurprisingly, it seems to be the latter that motivates the fake news mogul, rather than fiercely held ideological beliefs.

One of those moguls is Jestin Coler. He’s a Californian Hillary voter, but under the pseudonym LetTexasSecede, he started numerous fake news sites with misleadingly real-sounding names – the Denver Guardian, the National Report – where he would pen and publish smash hit stories like ‘FBI Agent Suspected In Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide’ (567,000 Facebook shares). Once tracked down (by NPR), he admitted to making a considerable income from fake news – in the six figure range annually.

How did he do it? He used much the same techniques as content marketers should be, albeit cutting a few corners (making things up, mostly). Fake news publishers have broadly the same goals as brands engaging in content marketing: get shares, get traffic, and, ultimately, get paid.

Here are four key lessons from the fake news kings.

1) Choose Your Audience Carefully

Fake news creators select their audiences with care. 2016 was the year fake news went mainstream, and Trump voters were the primary target. It probably helped that the American conservative blogosphere is already made up of a large network of smaller news sites – meaning they were likely to be more receptive to obscure news sources.

It’s essential for brands to be just as judicious. Who’s most likely to initially consume the content that you’re creating? It doesn’t necessarily need to be your end customer. If you can build a real audience for your content out of your brand’s peers or associated industry professionals, your content’s resulting dissemination can mean that by the time it reaches a prospective buyer, it comes with serious social proof attached.

2) Pick A Really Good Topic

An advantage of writing fake news is that the only limit is your imagination. Brands have to restrict themselves to fact and opinion, naturally – but unlike fake news have the opportunity to add real value for readers.

Don’t just fill space; choose topics that will entertain, educate, or both. Above all, make it interesting. If that means veering away a little from direct, immediate relevance to your product, that’s OK. Your Google Analytics reports will thank you.

3) Write Headlines That Grab Attention

Sell it. This is fundamental. No one will read your article if the headline is dull. A good rule of thumb is to open the headline with explainer words like ‘Why’ or ‘How’, or the number of points in your article (’11 Reasons Why…’). Don’t be afraid of headlines that are long – using between 10 and 15 words is now standard, and gives you that much more space to be persuasive.

Ensure you’re truthful about what your article contains, too. When the ‘Empire Herald’ shared links to their fake article ‘Cinnamon Roll Can Explodes Inside Man’s Butt During Shoplifting Incident’ (765,000 Facebook shares), at least they made sure it delivered on what it promised – with a juicy, detailed story, a police mugshot of a wacky looking guy, and even some quotes from ‘witnesses’.

Make sure your article does the same. Don’t try to bait and switch visitors, or you run the risk of a serious bounce rate when they arrive to find your ‘6 Reasons Why Winter Is The New Summer’ is little more than a sales pitch.

4) Make It Super Sharable

Why does fake news get so many shares? Because readers believe will it will add value for their friends and followers, because they believe it will make them look good, or because they want to comment on it to their peers (‘can you believe this?!’).

Ensure your content will tick at least one of those boxes. Genuinely insightful B2B white papers can make sharers look smart on LinkedIn – especially if you give them a neat ‘bluffer’s guide’ style insight or figures to share along with the link.

On the other end of the spectrum, ’17 Ways Your Beard Probably Sucks’ could be an effective choice for a youth menswear brand that wants to give its readers the opportunity to joke with their friends via shares, comments and tags.

We help real brands make real content that drives real business results – and we don’t even fake our enthusiasm. Find out how.

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