The fact that Russian disinformation campaigns, including troll farms and fake accounts, were used to try to impact the 2016 election, is common knowledge. We looked at the history and methods of these campaigns in an earlier article.
These campaigns possessed an impressive ability to leverage social media and cultural hot button issues to sow divisiveness around the election. Because they masqueraded as legitimate accounts on both sides of the aisle, voters often struggled to recognize them for the digital attacks that they were.
This type of disinformation campaign has not disappeared. Despite awareness of fake news and foreign strategies to spread disinformation, Russian attempts to impact our next election continue full force.
A recent article in Rolling Stone magazine highlighted the disinformation tactics that have appeared since 2016. In fact, according to that article, the Russian organization behind much of the 2016 election’s disinformation campaign produced more content on social media in 2017 than in 2016, the year of the election. Another article in the New York Time highlighted Russia’s attempts to practice disinformation strategies in African elections.
It is safe to say that voters can expect attempts to spread bad information and discord to increase this time around.
It is also safe to say that there remain lessons for marketers in the midst of all this. Here is a look at these new disinformation campaigns, and what marketers can learn about them for their own, more legitimate, marketing efforts.
Disinformation campaigns know their audiences.
Socrates may have urged his followers to “Know thyself,” but effective marketing requires you to also knows your audiences. This is a skill disinformation campaigns possess in abundance.
It appears that the bad actors in these campaigns create numerous social media accounts posing as legitimate people or organizations. Each account caters to a specific audience. According to the report from Rolling Stone, they do so very successfully. One tweet by one of these accounts, for example, received about 290,000 likes on Twitter.
How do these accounts so successfully appeal to tens or hundreds of thousands of individuals? They know who they want to reach and they focus on messaging for those people. Left-leaning individuals might get messages about right wing ignorance. Conservative followers might get messages about the stupidity of Democratic candidates. Since the goal of these campaigns is to sow divisiveness in the country, they tailor their message to whatever will appeal to the sensibilities of their chosen audience.
While the ends to which this marketing tactic is being used are harmful and dangerous, the tactic itself can be legitimately used by businesses looking to succeed in digital marketing. Businesses need to know their audiences inside and out. Then they need to create content that appeals to these audiences. With the right messaging, they will soon find the right audiences engaging with their business.
Disinformation campaigns are always evolving.
While attempts to identify and shut down fake accounts and fake news have been slow since the 2016 election, they have made inroads in stopping those old accounts and trolls.
The problem is that as soon as one account is shut down or one dishonest tactic is identified, another one develops. The disinformation campaigns are constantly evolving. The Rolling Stones article points out that tactics will be used to influence the 2020 election that no one has seen or anticipated yet.
Marketers are not trying to avoid censure for dishonest tactics and messaging. However, they still need to remain flexible and evolving because technology, and the ways in which their audiences use it, is always evolving.
For example, people increasingly use voice search to find what they need online. That means the phrases they use to search and the information they need is changing. That means that the content businesses produce also has to change.
Similarly, the continued explosion in mobile shopping means businesses need to make accessibility on mobile devices a top priority. Only businesses that can flex in their marketing strategies will continue to effectively reach their audiences.
Disinformation campaigns test their strategies.
Disinformation campaigns know their audiences and target them with surprising effectiveness. Part of that success is due to the fact that these campaigns take the time to test their strategies.
For example, one New York Times article covered a large effort by Russia to spread disinformation in African countries like Libya and Cameroon. Part of these efforts included using locals to set up social media accounts to participate in the disinformation efforts. It is believed that these efforts in Africa allow Russia to test new strategies that they can use in the United States during the 2020 elections.
Marketers can similarly get a feel for the effectiveness of their digital marketing strategies by testing their own ads. A/B testing of ads, for example, can help you identify and refine successful ads. A professional marketing company like Distinct Web Design can help you to effectively monitor your marketing success and continue to improve it in measurable and tangible ways.
Disinformation campaigns tap into people’s emotions.
One of the core strategies of these disinformation campaigns is to appeal to the emotions of their target audiences. The Rolling Stone article, for example, pointed out the fact that fake accounts appealed to their followers on an emotional level. They attracted people and used their emotions to drive certain messages home.
As a business looking to market itself online, you also want to appeal to your audience’s emotions. Your messages and ads should leave people feeling good about your brand. The emotions they experience when thinking about your brand will drive their decisions to shop, or not shop, with you.
Rissian disinformation campaigns don’t look like they are going to end anytime soon. Smart marketers will take away lessons from these campaigns to assist their own efforts. Know your audience; keep evolving, test your strategies, and appeal to people’s emotions.
Don’t forget to reach out to Distinct Web Designfry if you need help implementing these strategies. We can help you develop a digital marketing strategy that is compelling and effective for your business.