What does fake news mean for engineering PR?

Those of you who followed the US election will already be aware of the concept of fake news – and the argument that it’s proliferation, notably in Google news results and on Facebook, influenced the course of the vote. 

Put simply, for our kind readers who haven’t already heard, it’s common practice to build fake news websites, which are intended to look like real newspaper sites.

These are sometimes created to further political ends and sometimes simply as satire. The trouble is, when presented in the context of a trusted Facebook feed or SERPs (Search Engine Results Page), people believe them.

Go figure huh? You’d think folk would be smarter, right?

But this isn’t about engineering PR, is it? 
This is very relevant to you and your business. I know it seems like Donald Trump, the US election and the concept of fake news are a million miles away from the day-to-day business of selling sprockets and gaskets, but they aren’t.

Fake news could impact on your business in several ways:
  • There is a clear chance that people can write whatever they want about your brand or product and your audience may well believe it - because it appears in search or on Facebook
  • However, eventually people will come to trust news outlets less, unless those news outlets have established brands associated with the truth
  • This will apply just as much to Plastics and Coal Fortnightly as The Guardian and The Huffington Post 
  • It will also apply to your blog, website, magazine or self-publishing platform. You need to give people a reason to trust you.  
  • Search engines and social platforms plan to de-prioritise fake news and they may well end up de-prioritising your carefully curated content in the process  

Maybe this isn’t important to you? Perhaps you are too niche for anyone to care about? People told me the same thing about hacking 15 years ago. There was no chance they would get hacked because they were too small. It's safe to say that didn't work out well for many of them.

What search engines will do
Search engines, such as Google and Facebook, will respond to this by attempting to eliminate fake news from their results. Google has always been very focused on ensuring its results are trustworthy, but I suspect there will now be a re-doubling of efforts.

"You know, I think fake news as a whole could be an issue," explained Google chief executive Sundar Pichai, speaking on the BBC. "From our perspective, there should just be no situation where fake news gets distributed, so we are all for doing better here.

"So, I don't think we should debate it as much as work hard to make sure we drive news to its more trusted sources, have more fact checking and make our algorithms work better, absolutely."
Facebook has also responded firmly to the fake news scandal.

“(We have)… learned that the company is, in fact, concerned about the issue, and has been having a high-level internal debate since May about how the network approaches its role as the largest news distributor in the US,” explained tech website Gizmodo. “The debate includes questions over whether the social network has a duty to prevent misinformation from spreading to the 44 percent of Americans who get their news from the social network.”

On Monday, Google announced that it was going to cut fake news sites off from access to advertising, depriving them of a key revenue source. Facebook quickly followed suit with its own ad network.

Having said all that, no one actually runs fake PR campaigns that would affect engineering, technology and industrial companies, do they? Well, no, not unless your business is affected by climate change, tobacco, oil and gas, electric cars, the smart grid, renewable energy… Need I go on?

What should we do?
Stone Junction’s recommendations are simple:
  • Become a publisher and not just a publisher of features. It’s great to blog about your newest sprocket, widget or thingummy bob, but without reporting news, you can’t rank on Google News. 
  • Produce more content – you must rank higher and more frequently than the ‘fake news’. This is more important now than ever. 
  • Focus more on placing content in genuinely trusted media outlets. There are plenty of these in the trade media and their value is only going to increase. 

Your business might not be as important to the world as the US election, but there is no reason why you can’t respond seriously to significant changes in the way search engines operate.

My prediction for 2017 is that fake news will begin to affect B2B marketing and start to impact the way businesses promote themselves. Maybe it will turn out that your sprockets aren’t all that far away from Donald Trump after all.

Richard Stone

Stone Junction is a cool technical PR agency based in Stafford. We work for all sorts of businesses, with a particular focus on technology, technical and engineering companies. We like being sent cake and biscuits by clients, journalists and prospects.

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