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What Fake News Can Teach Us About Sponsored Content

December 22, 2016
Fake News Blog Post Graphic-1

Warning: the following headlines are from fake news sites promoting fake stories:

Obama Signs Executive Order Banning The National Anthem At All Sporting Events Nationwide

Breaking: FBI Confirms Evidence of High Underground Clinton Sex Network

Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement

Not presented as satire and with no attempts at humor, these posts posing as “news stories” received widespread comments and shares by people who either believe the claims, didn’t bother to read beyond the headlines or were not overly concerned about the source.

One of the posts prompted an armed man to “self-investigate” the claim at a pizza shop near us, creating real news and national headlines.

So while Facebook and Google are taking steps to prevent the spread of fake news, a tactic worth taking another look at is sponsored content (also known as native advertising). The content looks like a news story, but is labeled otherwise.

Sponsored content started to re-surface as a marketing option about five years ago as news organizations were looking for ways to replace lost advertising revenue. One of the biggest issues discussed at that time was whether readers would even look at paid content if it was tagged as “sponsored.”

The sharers of fake news may have answered that question. Readers don’t seem to care whether it’s a news story, an op-ed or how it is labeled. If the content is of interest and strikes a chord, people will click and share away.

As former journalists, we are as disturbed as anyone by this fake news trend. But if our clients produce well-researched, quality content and pay to have it posted on a valid site they will be telling their story in an environment that people trust. To us, the potential reach of a high quality story is a tactic worth considering, and the “sponsored content” tag likely won’t stop readers from sharing.

Up next: watch for Van Eperen’s tips on quickly spotting fraudulent stories and validating whether they’re authentic AND fact-based.

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