Social media has grown into a massive ecosystem of networks, platforms, and websites that generate constant activity. It’s become so large and widespread that it’s difficult to even imagine how much takes place there every day. Consider these Facebook-specific numbers for a minute. On Facebook alone, amidst the sea of 2.3billion users, for every minute that passes there are 510,000 comments posted, 293,000 status updates, and 136,000 photo uploads.
Just looking at those numbers can make trying to wade through any subset of the data an utterly overwhelming task. And that’s just one platform. Fortunately, there are various types of social media monitoring tools in the marketplace, allowing marketers to listen in on conversations happening all over the internet - conversations that are specific to their brand.
Don’t get us wrong: the availability of social media monitoring tools is an absolute godsend. Otherwise, we’d all be stuck using manual methods to hear the chatter about our brand. However, social media monitoring only gives part of the picture. While these are truly critical bits of data to know, what marketers and brands also need to understand are questions like these:
- Who is engaging with my brand?
- Where are they posting? Is it just one channel?
- Why is this conversation happening?
- How did the conversation get started?
- Why did this person say this thing in this place?
The “why” and the “how” give marketers the ability to understand context. That context is absolutely critical in learning the full picture and deciding how to respond. Let’s take a look at the most context-rich insights for marketers.
Percent of authenticity
Not every social media profile has a real person behind it. There are roughly 83 million fake profiles on Facebook and 48 million bot accounts on Twitter. That means that mixed in with all the authentic conversations going on in social media, there’s a lot of noise.
Marketers need to be able to pull in all brand mentions on social media channels and distinguish between fake account activity and real, human-to-human conversations. Otherwise, machine-generated social media accounts can wildly skew activity and the engagement metrics you are basing your digital strategy off of.
The same applies to conversations. How much online information about a brand is true and how much is false? It’s critical that brands know what percentage of a given conversation on mainstream social media is driven by low-quality, automated, or coordinated accounts.
When the conversation quality is low, disinformation campaigns like the one against Mortal Kombat 11 occur. In this case, a handful of real people were able to spread false claims using the susceptibility of other real people combined with bot account activity. The end result was a false claim that unlocking all the game content would cost players $6,400.
The New Knowledge narrative integrity solution detected amplified activity surrounding the new Mortal Kombat game. Different groups coordinated to propagate a disinformation campaign that all character skins would cost over $6,400 in an attempt to prevent others from purchasing the game.
Groups and networks sharing activity
So how did Mortal Kombat 11 go from an exciting video game launch to a brand controversy around microtransaction fees? The efforts of groups sharing activity, or internet factions, play a huge role. Just consider this cascade of events:
- Reports started surfacing on gamer-focused sites like BoundingIntoComics.com and Geeks+Gamers that female characters in Mortal Kombat 11 had toned-down sex appeal.
- A petition circulated to request that NetherRealm restore the previous characters from Mortal Kombat 9 to Mortal Kombat 11.
- Groups associated with the Populist Right and the GamerGate controversy started spreading negative messaging through review bombing on gaming review websites.
- These groups also published YouTube videos to easily spread negative messages around female character desexualization and slavery.
Brands must be ready to dive into the social media ecosystem to better learn which groups are targeting them. Just capturing conversations on social media and classifying them with broad demographics isn’t enough: knowing the associated internet factions, and what they care about, will help inform responses and prepare for future events.
The Mortal Kombat 11 timeline really illustrates how many different platforms were involved in this one event. BoundingIntoComics.com, which first published the news about female character desexualization, is connected to conservative-leaning Aurora-Media.com, which is connected to the Populist Right, which is connected to GamerGate, which is publishing YouTube content. Eventually this activity jumped to review sites and led to users falsely tanking Mortal Combats review score on Metacritic. Not all disinformation and user activity is limited to one channel.
Factions leveraged review bombing to tank review scores on Metacritic.
Coordinated disinformation campaigns use this vast network of cross-platform connections to generate widespread activity. The more platforms agents can use to broadcast their message, the faster it will spread to the broader public. Listening must take place not just at a brand level, but in a way that points marketers in the direction of platforms that will likely project similar messages.
What everyone wants to know is this: why? What action did a brand take that triggered disinformation activity? The answer can range from anything and everything to nothing at all.
Any action a brand takes, whether it is controversial or not, is an opportunity for an internet faction to respond in kind. Any product a brand changes, introduces, or end-of-life’s can be met with disagreement. Political stances, non-profit donation choices, advertising locations, or even just public statements - they’re all events that internet factions might use as reasons to strike.
So what action did NetherRealm take relative to Mortal Kombat 11? First, NetherRealm chose to take female game characters that had previously been hyper-sexualized and dial down the sexual nature of those characters. Second, the game-makers decided to explore the proposition that slavery is a bad idea.
Fans and players of the game didn’t like the idea of less-sexualized female characters. And they didn’t necessarily want the game narrative to stray into the moral territory of rewriting history. So they used broader concerns around micro-transaction fees to stir up negative sentiment, and eventually spread the false claim around game content fees.
Without the “why”, marketers are unable to connect the dots, make recommendations on how to respond now, and how to prevent disinformation campaigns in the future.
Brands must have the whole picture of online activity.
It’s not enough for brands and marketers to just listen to social media conversations. Today’s massive ecosystem of activity requires context. That context can only be derived through detailed analysis: distinguishing the authentic from the inauthentic, learning about internet factions and their deep web of connections, and understanding the motivations behind how they influence. Brand narratives are at stake, and they should look to resources, like narrative integrity solutions that provide the contextual insights needed. Without it, brands face their own web of disconnected data points - with no accompanying story.