In my last blog post we saw that there were conflicting reports circling the Internet about the results (or supposed lack thereof) for the Old Spice Man campaign. This seemed impossible given the buzz that the campaign was generating, and sure enough time and research revealed that the campaign actually generated a dramatic spike in sales and market share.

What gets me is the fact that so many people, including those who you think would be highly credible sources, got it wrong. Check out this apparent retraction from Time magazine’s article “Old Spice’s Viral Ads Got Attention, Not Sales”:

Update: We might have been a little too specific with the sales stats. Though Red Zone After Hours sales went down, overall body wash sales actually went up 107 percent, according to PRWeek. Good — we hope this means more Mustafa in our lives.

And it’s not as if Time was alone in misreporting the facts either. Many other major publications dropped the ball as well, including MSNBC, Yahoo, Bnet, etc.

Here was Yahoo’s retraction:

Update: A representative for the Old Spice ad campaign clarifies the sales trend and goal of the “Old Spice Man” commercials as follows: “[The] campaign is for Old Spice Body Wash overall, not specific to just Red Zone After Hours which just happens to be the body wash bottle used in the TV spots….Since the Smell Like A Man, Man campaign broke in February, Old Spice has month over month strengthened its market position and is now the number one brand of body wash and anti-perspirant/deodorant in both sales and volume with growth in the high single/double digits.”

Where did these false campaign results originate? In the old world of journalism, heads would roll if facts weren’t properly researched and double checked. We need look no further than Dan Rather’s firing for going to air with a report about President Bush’s military service without properly vetting his facts.

In a social media driven environment the media is desperate to break a story first. No one wants to be the last one out the door with a story, and you are not only competing with other news outlets, you’re competing with 190,000,000 Twitter users. Given the fact that more and more people are looking at Twitter or Facebook for their news, are trusted journalists now compromising their own standards and integrity just to stay competitive? Would they rather publish a story with half the facts than risk being late to market?

The decline in standards of journalism is only magnified in social media, because not only do you have one or two sources publishing inaccurate information, but you also have millions of people taking it as their own and spreading it to the rest of the world.

By design, social media is about sharing. To be active in the community, you need to contribute. This leads to a lot of links and re-tweets of information that people happen across, and think may be relevant to their social media circle. We now rely on our peers as trusted news sources.

On a professional level, information sourcing is very apparent in the marketing industry. The pass-it-on approach is often used as a tool to promote one’s stature in the social media sphere. As most social media “feeds” quickly refresh, pushing posts down the pages faster than you can say “Facebook”, many individuals are going beyond sharing, and taking on the duty of Social Media Aggregator. These individuals are social media mavens that use a shock and awe approach to their sharing. These people literally spend hours a day sourcing the Web in search for breaking news, insightful articles, and obscure facts only to quickly re-post it themselves with a small bit of commentary so that they can leverage in on the story.

It’s basically digital Gonzo journalism. An amazing ad campaign could break in Brazil and five minutes later you’d have 20,000 people sharing the news link while offering their own two cents. Next thing you know those bloggers and tweeters are now being indexed in Google as references that are attached to the campaign, and their opinions become part of the conversation.

It’s unavoidable that brands are going to have their marketing messages regurgitated through the Web. There’s not much you can do if the media, or a blogger, wants to weigh in on your story, and you can rest assured that someone will screw up the details or portray their opinion as fact.

Your best defence in social media is a strong offence. You need to monitor and appropriately respond to brand chatter, and ensure that your message is accurate. The best way to stop false information from spreading is to do your own part and seed the truth. Social media is far less forgiving on the strong and silent types. If your brand is achieving any form of success, then you are likely being talked about online. Be sure to be the one to share your story clearly and utilize official channels of PR and corporate communications to reinforce your message.

Lastly, we might want to all take an extra few seconds and read all the facts before we post that next article on Twitter or Facebook. We may not be professional journalists, but we do have to take some responsibility for the information we share.

We could all benefit from taking the ethics code of the Society of Professional Journalists into account before we post information:

  • Seek Truth and Report It
  • Minimize Harm
  • Act Independently
  • Be Accountable

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