As the presidential election illustrates, Americans are divided among economic lines, geographic lines, racial lines, gender lines. We’re especially divided along partisan lines. The diminishing circulation of major newspapers and the rise of bloggers, niche websites, and social media accelerated the trend of increasing media fragmentation. The 2016 election illustrates how divided we’ve become.
The public has lost trust in traditional media. Instead of reading major newspapers or websites of major media outlets, the public obtains news from social media or an array of partisan websites. Partisan viewers seek information that supports their current views and eagerly share the posts on social media — even if it’s completely made up by fake news websites.
Partisan divisions have become so strong we can’t even agree on basic facts, says PR professional Robert Wynne. “Because of the self-segregation by groups, each with its own beliefs and facts, we’ve entered a new era. Today we are in the age of Micro-Persuasion or Tribal Persuasion.” Wynne writes in Forbes.
Pitch Different Messages
In a world with different sets of beliefs and facts for different audiences, “entrepreneurs, publicists and communicators may need to create several different messages for several different groups for every issue or product for a very long time,” Wynne contends.
I disagree. There is too much risk in using different positioning or different claims for different audiences – as Hillary Clinton learned all too well during the election. Most PR and marketing strategists opt for the straight and narrow in public communications – the same core messages and facts for all audiences.
In business communications, it is best to keep in mind that there is more that binds us as humans than divides us as partisans, even if political rancor has increased in recent years. Example #1: Millennials are more alike than different from their grandparents in fundamental beliefs. Example #2: Conservatives and progressives seek essentially the same qualities in products and services they purchase.
While recommending micro-targeting with differing messages as the new PR methodology, Wynne offers this more traditional advice:
- Don’t post fake news to fake sites. The practice may backfire.
- If you are the victim of a fake news story, make sure your friends, clients and important constituents know the source of the story and the information is bogus.
- Keep contacting legitimate news sources. There are plenty on the right, the left, the middle and areas between the margins that care about accuracy and honesty.
- Avoid social media trolls and 24-7 commenters. Most of them full of anger with plenty of time on their hands. Blocking and ignoring works best.
- Don’t expect everyone will agree with you. At best, you might reach half of an audience, and even that possibility is not very high.
Even in advocating for different “takes” for different audiences, Wynne emphasizes the need for accuracy and honesty, especially in communications intended to appear in mass media such as traditional print and broadcast.
Because misinformation can spread quickly on the web, it’s essential that PR use media monitoring services that can send real-time alerts, media experts say. Because of the viral nature of social media, PR must be quick in correcting misinformation when it appears.
Others call the concept of micro-persuasion “long-tail PR.” In that strategy, instead of striving for placements in major media outlets, PR communicates with fragmented audiences through the millions of bloggers and other influencers, explains Erin Kenny, account manager at Command Partners Public Relations, who credits former Wired editor Chris Anderson for coining the term long-tail PR.
When combined, niche blogs reach an enormous audience, and their readers are passionate about their subject. These are the influencers and brand advocates that are critical to reach. In addition, journalists at larger outlets often check these smaller blogs for scoops.
Achieving reach through smaller outlets, however, is quite different from changing the message for different outlets and audiences. The dangers of massaging the message can be far greater than the benefits. In fact, straying from core messages or misusing facts can be PR, marketing or political suicide.
What do you think? Are mass communications being replaced by micro-persuasion? Is it appropriate to craft different core messages to different audiences? Your comments are welcome.
Michael Kling is manager of public relations, marketing and social media at Glean.info, a media monitoring and measurement service that provides customized media monitoring and PR analytics solutions.