You’ve likely noticed in the past couple of years that political propaganda (“fake news”), ads and various forms of useless spam have been making for a more unpleasant social web experience.
Feeling anxious or annoyed when you log on to Facebook? You’re not alone. This is a problem for media companies and their clients.
Before we discuss solutions, let’s identify a big part of the problem: Donald Trump, and myriad other publishers who’ve been pushing so much toxic content onto users that it’s making people miserable and driving them away.
A recently released Oxford University study found that Trump supporters share “the widest range of ‘junk news’ on Twitter,” and extreme far-right groups are the most active on Facebook. The problem is so serious that executives with Unilever, one of the world’s largest multinational advertisers, signaled this week that it “cannot continue to prop up a digital supply chain … which at times is little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency,” marketing head Keith Weed said, according to CNN.
Facebook is finally acknowledging the problem and announced recently it would modify its algorithm to promote more content from friends and family (which may not solve the problem since That Uncle of ours posts offensive political rants six times a day).
Trump may be America’s first social media president, in the sense that he was likely the first to use social media (Facebook in particular) to its fullest “potential”; his aggressive, $100 million digital strategy could very well have been the deciding factor in his victory over Hillary Clinton in November 2016.
Trump helped make social media unbearably toxic. Now, it’s time for us all to fix it with better content.
Adapting to increasing pressure from investors and markets, modern social networks seem doomed to erode user experience with more ads or other sponsored content. Add artificial intelligence to the mix and the user often faces a visual onslaught of undesirable content every time they log on to their preferred social network.
Using up to roughly 50,000 unique AI-generated digital ad variations daily, tailored to the personal preferences of social media users, Trump was able to “win” arguments and sway voters who might have otherwise found his views objectionable.
In the long run, though, Trump will not win; it’s unclear he will even be able to finish his scandal-plagued term. We can, however, learn from his campaign’s destructive digital techniques.
If everyone can publish anything at any time, the value of each piece of your web content will only decrease in value, generally speaking; especially when your web space is being taken up by aggressive advertisers with virtually unlimited resources.
I predict, and have been preparing for, an eventual return to a more decentralized web experience over the siloing trend we’ve been seeing with the domination of Facebook (for example, visiting your favourite 20 or so platforms throughout the day instead of expecting a summary of their content via one preferred social network).
At our shop, we’re coming back to that classic “Content is King” idea and have reduced the amount of social media content produced for clients. In excess, over-posting can seriously harm a brand.
To use a beer analogy, we’re focusing on small batch, artisan brews instead of giving away cases of Bud. We call it a move from clickbait to #thinkbait but however you want to describe it, here’s some of what we’ve done over the past year to create a better social web experience for brands we manage:
– limiting social media posts to an average of two per day across almost all brands
– limiting social media curation (shares or retweets)
– increasing the use of blogs, podcasts and other forms of specialized native content
– enforcing strict AP/CP-inspired editorial standards for all published material
– grounding web content in real world events and experiences to add social value for the user
The last point seems obvious but is particularly important: The “social” in social media has been lost. In order to create platforms and content people will want to engage with on a regular basis, the user’s quality of life must always be considered.
Before posting to Facebook or Twitter, more communicators should ask themselves the following question: Does this help?
If it doesn’t, remember that your post could be making someone anxious, frustrated or otherwise contributing to ruining their day.
Dan Delmar is managing partner, public relations with TNKR Media and contributor to Postmedia newspapers and Bell Media radio stations in Montréal and Toronto, Canada.