THINK Contributor

What the fake news scandal teaches us about email marketing

By , January 24, 2017

Last year, the media was rocked by headlines that fake news had been circulating through social media and shaping people’s perceptions about current events. According to the Pew Research Center, 64 percent of Americans say fabricated stories cause a great deal of confusion. An Ipsos poll found that as many as 75 percent of Americans may be taken in by fake news. This has raised important discussions on the accountability of news creators and social platforms, and created checklists and awareness for helping readers fact-check the information they are consuming.

Yet, for legitimate marketers, there are several big takeaways from the fake news trend about what today’s consumers are paying attention to. Clearly, the goal isn’t to deceive your audiences: quite the opposite, in fact. Here’s a closer look at some of the key marketing lessons that underscore the fake news situation – and how you can improve your email marketing strategy this year.

Trust and Authenticity Help Email Communications Connect

Perhaps the most important lesson from the whole fake news crisis is that more Americans are standing up and taking note of information sources. As a result, your email marketing strategies need to reflect your commitment to quality and authenticity and build trust with your customers and audiences. By incorporating quality signals into your email marketing, you may capture buyer attention and drive conversions along the way. In fact, a recent promotional email campaign from National Geographic promoting magazine subscriptions featured the headline “Trust Us, It’s Real (and Researched) News.”

While this unique spin works well for an established and trusted media source, different types of businesses can leverage the same approach. For example, if you are a company in the energy space, different types of providers – from oil to solar to wind – are jockeying for position as the preferred provider for consumers. How can you use facts about your specific type of energy to better educate consumers and separate your email marketing and business from the competition?

Social Proof and the Power of Endorsements

A recent Slate piece explored how two stories which were published around the same time performed very differently in the media. One was a fake news story stating the Pope had endorsed Donald Trump as a presidential candidate; the other was a New York Times in-depth investigation on tax issues. The first story received more than one million shares, while the second received just 200,000. What concepts can marketers take from just this one example? The first is that the way people define authority and reputation may not be as straightforward as you might think.

The second is that in today’s busy world, with its heavy flow of information being constantly released, clear-cut endorsements are easier to grasp than a complex discussion. Take the time to understand what your audience perceives as authoritative. What sources and people do they pay attention to? This can be helpful in determining, for example, who to interview for your content marketing initiatives and how to effectively share that information.

Powerful Headlines Still Matter for Email Marketing

The classic statistic suggests that eight out of 10 readers never get beyond the headline. Much of the fake news that circulated featured powerful headlines with bold claims, controversial takes on current events, or surprising statistics that caught readers off guard. How much attention are you paying to the headlines you use to drive your email marketing efforts? A few best practices to keep in mind include:

  • Write at least five different headlines for every email communication you intend to send, and test your best two for performance. Use the data you collect to perfect different formulas over time.
  • Experiment with different angles in your email marketing to find what resonates with your audience. Can you capture their attention with an unexpected statistic or incorporate a unique perspective into your outreach?

Incorporate Social Sharing Elements into Your Email Marketing

As Jason Demers writes on Forbes, one of the key takeaways of the fake news scandal is the sheer potential of social sharing. For email marketers, this underscores the importance of building an email strategy which connects to social media channels. This can vastly amplify your email content, whether you are asking your customers to share a coupon with their friends or providing original content they are likely to promote on Twitter or Facebook. It’s possible to do this by:

  • Thinking about social shareability when crafting your headlines and content
  • Incorporating connections to your social channels into your email marketing template
  • Making your email communications easy to share on different social networks by incorporating social share buttons
  • Thinking about your calls to action to focus on a specific kind of network-driven sharing that aligns with your goals

Experiment: People’s Responses Will Surprise

Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways of the fake news scandal is that marketers shouldn’t be afraid to experiment with new approaches. It seems necessary to state again that this should only be done within ethical lines and with your audience’s best interests at heart. However, digging deeper into what really drove the situation as it unfolded revealed that we didn’t really know as much about people’s behavior online as we assumed. Social sharing and the news consumed on social networks played a much different role in people’s lives, perceptions, and even actions than previously understood. Email marketing is a space which has been evolving for decades.

There are numerous best practices for campaigns in every industry. However, companies may have a viral success by taking an unexpected tactic. Maybe you will find new ways to incorporate visual or video media into your emails – or drive the next technology innovation and how email marketing is presented. What’s important is to realize that today’s audiences are rich and complex, and even with all the data we have they still have the potential to surprise us. Let that inspire you to push for innovation in your email strategies, to grow your business, and create a better customer experience.


Liz Alton writes about digital marketing and her work has been featured on USA Today, Forbes, Inc, Harvard Business Review and Entrepreneur. Her specialties include all things marketing, technology, B2B, big data/analytics, cloud and mobility. She holds a Bachleor’s degree in journalism from University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth and an MBA from Western Governors University. She is currently pursuing a Master’s in Journalism from Harvard University. Liz is a paid contributor to THINK Marketing. 


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