How to Manipulate the Media

4 minute read

How to Manipulate the Media

Media manipulation occurs in the space between truth and website pageviews.

There are 86,400 seconds in a day and, thanks in part to Google, the online content cycle never stops. Every second must be refreshed with new content (meat) all the time to satisfy the needs of both man and (search) robot.

That speed means news agencies and bloggers have between zero and almost no time to research and that pageviews count above all else.

What this all boils down to is this: You can manipulate the media by taking advantage of the many loopholes in the media fabric.

Trust me I'm lying?

How’s your ethical compass these days? Judging by his book, “Trust Me I’m Lying,” Ryan Holiday’s is just about broken. He is (or was) all about how to manipulate the media, especially bloggers and news aggregation sites. And he must know what he’s talking about: His book debuted on the Wall Street Journal’s bestseller’s list.

So who exactly is this Holiday chap? If you’re interested in the fashion business, you might know him as the former director of marketing for American Apparel, which isn’t always known for a squeaky-clean image, but the ads are fun to look at. But it’s more likely you know of him indirectly, through boundary-pushing publicity hounds like Tucker Max. (If you don’t know who Tucker Max is, congratulations and don’t worry about it.)

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Even if you’ve never heard of him, Holiday has some advice that could help you. His goal isn’t to improve online reputations directly, though his tactics can be a of it. It’s really about creating cheap, sustainable publicity and buzz for you or your brand—tasks that normally cost a pretty penny. Per Holiday and his ilk, here are a few tips for becoming at least a small-time media manipulator. For the record, we’re not endorsing the tactics as he describes them—but if you can pull these off in an ethical manner… good luck.

1. Create a compelling package for tips and information for researchers

If you were a blogger or reporter looking for pageviews (maybe even being compensated solely on them), would you prefer to anchor a story around an official press release or a “leaked memo”? Probably the latter, because readers love leaks. Holiday talks about creating fake internal memos and disseminating them to unsuspecting members of the press, often providing ridiculous context like “OMG, LOOK WHAT MY BOSS JUST SENT US!!” Concealing the true source of information, or repackaging it to make it look more earth-shattering, can definitely draw attention from media types—and readers—who’d otherwise pass on it. But using faked memos can backfire as 60 Minutes learned.

2. Be sensational. Sensation draws eyeballs.

Sensationalism is almost always an asset, as long as there’s a grain of truth at its core. There’s no law against releasing or “leaking” information that exaggerates the most jaw-dropping aspect of a situation, even if it’s beside the point. Readers have limited time, so think about the subjects they most want to learn about: sex, drugs, revenge, know, the usual. Its the new form of “yellow journalism.” (According to Wikipedia “Yellow journalism is a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers.”)

3. Make headlines that sell - clickbait

Build on the sensational nature of your material with a suggested headline (or a headline for the leak/release itself) that’s impossible to ignore. This is sometimes called clickbait. If it’s appropriate for the person or medium, NSFW (“not safe for work”) language is absolutely okay here, as long as you’re cool with going on the record with it. If you’re a regular consumer of online media, you’ll notice that headlines from click-fueled publications—Business Insider, Buzzfeed, the Gawker Media family—often have little to do with the actual content of their stories. They’re pretty successful, so they must be doing something right.

4. Exploit talented but financially insecure bloggers

It probably comes as no surprise that most bloggers live hand to mouth. According to CareerCast, the average pay for a reporter is just $36,267. There’s no shortage of folks who post sensational content in their free time in hopes of making it big. Of course, few make an honest living out of it in the real world —or ever punch their meal ticket to the big time.

In other words, the very people you rely on to build your buzz are in need of some online reputation-building themselves. So give them a hand: Choose talented, promising, ambitious bloggers as recipients of “exclusive” leaks that can create momentum for their brand—and yours. Repeat as necessary. Mutual benefit, amirite?

5. Give their promotional efforts a helping hand

If you’re looking to prove your worth as a source, you may need to back up your “sensational” and “exclusive” claims with results—namely, clicks and page views. Once your contact posts your story, promote it through your social media channels, tapping your friends and colleagues to do the same. Depending on your budget, you might even consider linking services like OutBrain, which drive traffic between high-authority sites/stories and those that could use a publicity boost.