A message from Viafoura’s CEO about Ukraine

As we watch the horrible events unfold in Ukraine, I would like to mention the critical importance of legitimate and trusted journalism, now more than ever.

As we have all seen, social media has become a powerful channel for the mass distribution of misinformation and propaganda. The work that all of us are doing here at Viafoura is directly and meaningfully contributing to media organizations’ ability to maintain high journalistic standards, and to build sustainable businesses that allow their vital work to continue.

The need for people to find trusted and untainted sources for information is only going to increase during events like these, and I am proud that we are a part of the ecosystem that bolsters this important work.

I am also proud of our company’s decision, with the full backing of our board of directors, to refuse customers that spread extremism, misinformation, hate, and propaganda.

The Greatest Challenges in Media From 2020, Unpacked

For many, 2020 was a low point — especially with the pandemic, political turmoil and social injustices raging across the globe. These recent events have also sparked a set of ongoing business challenges within the media industry.

Thankfully, organizations are determined to stand strong and be a trusted resource for community members no matter what’s thrown their way. 

“After a year where everything was confusing, and the goalposts were always moving, the best we can do as [media] organizations is to be useful and supportive to our communities,” states Mandy Jenkins, general manager of The Compass Experiment at McClatchy.

So to help media companies become more resilient and build better relationships with their audiences and staff, we unpacked crucial takeaways from some of the greatest industry challenges of 2020. Organizations that keep these takeaways in mind will set themselves up for long-term growth and success.

Limitations on In-Person Experiences Reinforces the Need for Digital Social Experiences

The pandemic forced a large number of print media products, including newspapers and magazines, as well as in-person events to shut down practically overnight. 

While media companies are now unable to build relationships with audiences in person due to safety restrictions, brand relationships are thriving virtually. 

“This year, the sense of isolation caused by lockdown has pushed a lot of people toward online communities to fill the void left by the lack of social interactions,” states Francesco Zaffarano, the editor-in-chief of Will Media. “Although that isolation will eventually end, engaging with communities will still be the key to success in the post-pandemic world.”

By delighting audiences with online social experiences, media companies can encourage connections to form around their brands. These brand relationships will then lead to greater reader loyalty and digital revenue.

The Explosion of Misinformation Calls for Moderation

Misinformation and fake news have been circulating online for as long as the internet has existed. However, the monumental events from 2020 have amplified the reach and impact of misinformation, destroying trust and endangering safety.

A recent study of 200 million pandemic-specific social media posts even revealed that 40% of them were unreliable. 

In a world where people no longer know what information to trust, providing reliable news and building close relationships with audiences must be a priority.

That’s why it has become vital for media organizations to invest in making their owned and operated properties safe, trusted spaces for news and related conversation. 

Consider producing a trusted environment by tightening moderation on your website’s (or app’s) social spaces to prevent offensive behavior and misinformation. 

As Anna Nirmala, VP of the American Journalism Project, stresses, “having a relevant and trusted brand is linked to building relationships and engaging with the community.”

The Loss of Third-Party Cookies Means a Shift to First-Party Data

Despite shrinking company budgets and the global pandemic, 2020 threw another curveball to media companies: the end to third-party cookies

Most media leaders quickly realized that they would have to reconsider their audience data-collection strategies to survive beyond 2022, when Chrome phases out third-party cookies entirely.

Little by little, organizations are shifting focus from third-party to first-party data strategies to future-proof their businesses. After all, first-party data offers insight into what audiences find interesting and how companies can better meet their needs. 

“You have to triple down on data – not in the crude sense of chasing page views, but in the sense of infusing the [organization] with a visceral sense of who audiences are, why you matter and how you can matter more,” explains Lucy Kueng, a professor and senior research fellow at the Reuters Institute.

In other words, first-party audience data is essential for creating highly relevant content and experiences to boost the appeal of your company’s services.

Changing Work Environments Put Greater Emphasis on Improving Mental Health in the Newsroom

In recent years, the state of employee mental health at media companies has been under scrutiny. 2020 then unleashed a mass migration to remote workspaces along with an alarming number of job cuts across the media industry, adding new pressure on newsroom workers. 

“We are at an interesting point where newsroom cultures are changing very quickly and the pandemic has accelerated that,” states Reuters Global Managing Editor Simon Robinson. “The challenge now is to keep that momentum going as new remote workers are joining news [organizations] and relationship-building is getting harder.”

Business leaders must now take steps to improve mental health in the newsroom to maintain a positive, productive work environment with satisfied employees.

All throughout 2020, media companies were forced to tackle one challenge after another. Fortunately, we’ve finally entered the beginning of a healing period, where businesses can learn from the past to become more resilient and profitable moving forward.

Why a Temporary Facebook Boycott Isn’t Enough

With over 2.7 billion active monthly users, Facebook has become a popular destination for media companies hoping to approach new audiences. 


But funneling time and money into Facebook feeds a growing list of problems. Most recently, a series of nonprofit groups asked companies all over the world to temporarily pull their advertisements from the big tech company. This “Hate for Profit” boycott was meant to pressure Facebook to take action against hate speech and misinformation on the platform. 

Since then, the social media platform has taken some small steps to better itself, like promising to hire a new VP of civil rights and removing more posts that suppress voting — yet, it isn’t nearly enough. 

The boycott showcased the seriousness of Facebook’s flaws, but it was also temporary, meaning that the social giant expected its advertisers to come back.

In Mark Zuckerberg’s words, “all these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough.”

But the disadvantages of using Facebook extend beyond advertising. Media companies that use the platform organically, without investing any advertising dollars, also face a series of consequences. And Facebook isn’t taking action to resolve these issues. 

Clearly, a temporary boycott of the platform won’t cut it anymore. Here’s why you may want to consider making your boycott or disuse of the platform a little more permanent.

The Ongoing Spread of Incivility and Misinformation

Facebook is notorious for enabling the spread of misinformation, racism and voter manipulation. Unfortunately, the social media giant relies on a moderation system that can’t effectively sift through and block all offensive posts and fake news. 

Not to mention that its algorithms will amplify the reach of content and groups with high engagement rates, regardless of its nature. In many cases, hate groups are even allowed to exist and are recommended to other users on the platform.

“From the monetization of hate speech to discrimination in their algorithms to the proliferation of voter suppression to the silencing of Black voices, Facebook has refused to take responsibility for hate, bias, and discrimination growing on their platforms,” Color of Change, a racial justice organization, writes on its website

Now imagine what happens when your content is thrown into the mix of misinformation, trolls, bots and discrimination. 

Ultimately, your brand’s credibility is significantly reduced on Facebook since so many people don’t trust the content they come across on the platform.

Whether it be due to the Cambridge Analytica data scandal or the ongoing incivility, many people have already lost trust in the social platform. So how can you possibly nurture an audience that trusts your brand in such a volatile environment? A month-long or even year-long boycott isn’t going to help regain the trust of Facebook users.

No Audience Ownership

Facebook poses more challenges to media companies than just fake news and offensive comments. It also acts as a barrier between businesses and audiences, often preventing brands from accessing the proper data needed to form close connections with users. 

If you use the platform as a primary way to attract and nurture consumers, you’re stuck with the limited insights Facebook provides. In other words, you can forget about getting in-depth first-party data or engagement data on your community members. 

On Facebook, the only company that gets ownership over your community and its data is Facebook

And here’s the problem with that: By missing out on consumer data, the opportunity to understand your consumers to improve and monetize their experiences with your brand is slipping through your fingers. 

Actionable first-party data can be used to build valuable, personalized consumer experiences. 

“Our ability to capture interaction data at scale, turn it to insight and leverage it broadly across our organization will define our success,” states Troy Young, Hearst Magazines’ president.

Limited Control Over Your Content

Facebook’s algorithm is constantly changing. Businesses have been disrupted time and time again as the platform changes how content’s prioritized in the News Feeds. 

According to Hootsuite, a social media management platform, posts by brands on Facebook during late 2019 were seen by around 5.5% of their social media followers. 

This means that 94.5% of their Facebook followers would never even see posts from brands in the News Feed. 

Additionally, media companies are powerless to where their content is displayed to users. Your precious articles could even be sandwiched between fake news or offensive user posts in someone’s Feed. 

Media companies simply don’t have enough control over how their content is showcased and who can see it on Facebook. 

In fact, Facebook hid potentially live-saving information related to COVID-19 from users during the early stages of the pandemic. 

Whether or not the social media platform can solve its misinformation and incivility challenges, it will always hold all of the cards when it comes to displaying your content — and that might not be in your company’s best interest. 

A temporary boycott simply isn’t effective enough to convince the social media giant to renounce its power over your content.

Loss of Revenue

Pew Research Center notes that Facebook owned 42% of all digital display advertising revenue in 2019. 

By using Facebook as an advertising platform, not only are you helping to fund the site, but you’re also losing a cut of your advertising revenue to them.

Instead of giving a share of your ad revenue to Facebook, you can make the most of your company’s digital properties by running your in-house and third-party ads right on your platform. 

Consider leveraging the social spaces within your own website or app to run advertisements to maximize the engagement around your ads

At the end of the day, Facebook presents issues far beyond damaging the reputation and revenue earnings of your company — it also stands in the way of keeping people informed, safe and aware of deep-rooted prejudices. 

While Facebook must continue improving itself, don’t let the success of your brand and safety of internet users be tied to the social media giant. This is the time to stop focusing on investing in a company that’s bringing yours down. Instead, focus on building up your own brand outside of Facebook’s influence.

Eight Times Social Media Destroyed Public Trust

Do you believe every news story you come across on social media? With fabricated videos and accounts floating around social platforms, it can be extremely easy for misinformation to spread. 

A study conducted by Oxford’s Reuters Institute reports that an estimated 88% of misinformation related to the coronavirus is found on social media. In contrast, only 8% is found on news platforms.

Now that the world is going through a major crisis with the ongoing pandemic and police brutality against black people, consumers need credible platforms for news and entertainment. But publishers can no longer depend on social media to build up an audience around trustworthy content. Not when public opinion can be distorted so effortlessly across social platforms.

To gain a better understanding into how skeptical consumers already are of social media, read on to examine eight times social channels betrayed public trust.

1. When Facebook marked trustworthy COVID-19 information as spam

As a media company, you’re probably familiar with the many algorithm changes social media uses to decide what content gets prioritized and what gets hidden. No one, however, was prepared for Facebook to label important information on the coronavirus as spam and prevent consumers from seeing it. 

Although the issue was allegedly caused by a bug, the damage was already done — social media users who depend on Facebook for news weren’t immediately informed of critical updates.

2. When fake COVID-19 cures were spread

It seems silly to even think that garlic, vitamins, sesame oil or drinking a lot of water would be able to wipe out a deadly virus. But after these were falsely touted as miracle cures for COVID-19 by fake World Health Organization and national health ministry accounts on Twitter, misinformation spread rapidly. 

The public has now directly witnessed that even the most senseless suggestions can seem believable on social media.

3. When conspiracy theories over George Floyd’s death were allowed

Millions saw the video of George Floyd being murdered by a policeman on credible news sites. And yet, conspiracy theorists continue to leverage social media as their primary space to preach about why they believe George Floyd never actually died. 

Even YouTube has been used to spread fake videos skewing the cruel reality of George Floyd’s death.

4. When Twitter let police start rumors about protesters

Unlike news outlets, Twitter has an extremely limited ability to dig deeper into claims to see if they’re true or false. Which is why the social platform has become home to police officers who are manipulating the public’s image of the Black Lives Matter protests. 

In one occurrence, an official police account posted about riot weapons found in a bus.

This “riot equipment” turned out to be harmless everyday tools used by street performers.

5. When Facebook failed to delete a viral conspiracy video

A video claiming that vaccines weaken immune systems and have made people vulnerable to the pandemic was only demoted by Facebook, not deleted. Now, some uploads of the video have gained a whopping eight million views, and are being used by anti-vaxxers as well as conspiracy theorists to spread their beliefs.

6. When fake, believable wildlife stories went viral

If you were on social media at all during the early stages of the pandemic, you probably read about how wildlife was thriving due to the lockdowns.

Well, that was fake news.

This is just one of many examples that are pushing consumers to realize they can be tricked by even the most heartwarming stories on social media.

7. When Facebook had the Cambridge Analytica scandal

Back in 2018, the public found out that Facebook leaked private user information to a company that used it to send out targeted political ads. Facebook users have been skeptical of the tech giant ever since.

8. When derogatory and untrue information skewed public opinion

We all know that it’s highly offensive to call COVID-19 the “Chinese virus,” which facilitates harmful stereotypes and perceptions towards Asian people. Unfortunately, this derogatory phrase has become commonplace on Twitter. Even Donald Trump’s tweet that reinforces this prejudice has yet to be removed by the social media giant.

Little by little, social media platforms are chipping away at the public’s trust. Any news content posted on these channels now faces skepticism and uncertainty from consumers simply by association. So how can you maintain your reputation as a trustworthy brand in an untrustworthy space? 

To establish close connections with consumers as a resource that people can trust, media companies must start enhancing the power of their digital properties — outside the realm of social media. After all, the last thing anyone wants is for their content to get lost in the sea of misinformation.

Here’s What Media Companies Are Doing to Deal With COVID-19 Information Overload

With COVID-19 disrupting the world, the demand for news has never been greater. Newsrooms are being pushed to their limits as they test the most time-saving yet effective methods to sift through an infinite amount of coronavirus information, craft story after story and keep their teams safe. 

According to Therese Bottomly, the editor of a U.S.-based local paper, the “coronavirus will strain even the largest newsrooms as news breaks continuously and into the nights and weekends.”

So what could be a better way to ease the enormous pressures on your media company than by understanding how other companies are maneuvering through this infodemic?

Read on to discover useful ways you can prevent your newsroom staff from burning out while keeping up with the demand for top-quality news.


Moving Staff to Cover the Coronavirus

It’s no surprise that this health crisis has encouraged consumers to rely on trustworthy news companies for credible coronavirus information. As a result, traffic to news platforms has been soaring over the past few weeks. 

Some media companies are meeting this high demand for news by shifting the focus of all content creators towards the pandemic. 

For example, The Seattle Times is leveraging almost all 58 of its reporters — who typically focus on different verticals — to prioritize covering COVID-19 in some way or form. 

Even entertainment-focused brands like Bustle, People.com and BuzzFeed are incorporating coronavirus content across its verticals. 

By encouraging more staff to focus on coronavirus coverage, your newsroom can keep your community informed without burning out.


Promoting Content Across News Platforms 

Before the pandemic hit, it was typically every media company for themselves in the endless pursuit of higher revenue. But priorities have since changed. 

Now, companies are more focused on keeping their newsrooms functional while maintaining an informed and safe audience… even if that means collaborating with competitors.

To provide readers with relevant content and prevent editorial teams from being overworked, different media organizations in the U.S. have started repromoting each other’s articles.

“The collaboration will allow newsrooms to pick up good information from other sources, so they will not need to re-report the same story,” Bottomly explains. “We can cover more angles this way.


Simplifying News Updates

It became clear early on that newsrooms couldn’t keep up with the constant flow of coronavirus information by relying solely on traditional articles. 

“By the time [coronavirus] stories are written, edited and published, they are often already out of date,” writes a reporter from the Guardian,  Matthew Weaver

For this reason, some media companies are turning to live blogging tools, which can allow journalists to post instant updates directly to a single place. 

By reducing the need to create full-blown articles for each update, newsrooms can cut down their workloads. Plus, live blogs give audience members a constant flow of relevant information they can trust. 

“Only by following events in real time can you satisfy readers’ desire for up-to-date news about Covid-19,” Weaver adds.


Navigating Misinformation 

As media organizations strain to provide audiences with a constant feed of news, they’re also busy sifting through a sea of misinformation. From anti-vaxxers to misinformed celebrities and politicians, picking apart fact from fiction is quickly becoming a priority for news companies.

Laura Helmuth, a health and science editor at the Washington Post, published a useful tipsheet for newsrooms to avoid spreading misinformation on COVID-19. Her guide highlights that while newsrooms should effectively pump out content, it’s important to do so by protecting the overall quality of news. 

In fact, one of Helmuth’s tips encourages media companies to avoid creating content that identifies misinformation unless it’s already prominent to the public. As stated by Helmuth, “repetition makes misinformation feel more true.”

Many media companies also prevent the spread of misinformation by using credible sources within the health industry. 

Lots of misinformation is circulating about coronavirus, and this problem will get worse as the outbreak does,” says Helmuth. “Look to infectious-disease and public-health experts for solid information, and be on alert for people trying to sell themselves as experts when they aren’t.”

Coronavirus-related news certainly won’t be slowing down anytime soon. Thankfully, you now have all the knowledge you need to help your newsroom and audience survive this explosion of information.

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