How Content Marketing Needs to Adjust in a ‘Fake News’ Era

Content marketing isn’t journalism, but you still need to earn your readers’ trust.

Although the origin of the phrase “fake news” goes back hundreds of years, the saying erupted into mainstream discussion recently during the 2016 presidential election. The rampant spread and reach of “fake news” articles was evident in a post-election analysis from Buzzfeed that found the top 20 “fake news” stories about the election cycle were shared 1.4 million more times than the top 20 real news stories about the election. Combine this with the 50+ “fake news” mentions on President Donald Trump’s Twitter, and it seems like we just can’t get away from “fake news.” Even Oxford Dictionary’s “Word of the Year” in 2016 was “post-truth,” a synonym of the popular phrase.

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As with any trending discussion on a topic as imperative as the integrity of the media, there have been many reactions among journalists, politicians and CEOs on how to address the issue. For example, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced they would partner with journalism outlets like ABC News and Snopes in an effort to flag “fake news.”

Content marketers themselves are among these platforms discovering ways to adapt and adjust tactics in a content-filled era where misinformation is high and reader’s trust is low. Undoubtedly for the foreseeable future, content marketing is going to exist in a media landscape that includes “fake news.”

At a “Media Literacy 101” event held by the Atlanta Press Club in May 2017, journalists and concerned citizens from Atlanta came together to confer how to change the discussion around “fake news.” As a public relations/marketing professional, I am not a journalist; however, it is vital to be a part of this conversation because like journalists, I need to EARN my reader’s trust. While it is in the hands of the readers to be more cautious and “media literate” in deciphering between the fake and real, organizations that create and share content marketing materials have a responsibility in making this a simple task for their readers.

So how does the “fake news” era impact the way content marketers function? Here are four tips for creating content:

Tip 1: Full Disclosure: Acknowledge your bias.

Don’t try to hide who you’re working for and how it affects your perspective. At McDonnell Group, we encourage our clients to always acknowledge their bias in their writing and own it. For example, a company that sells safety equipment can legitimately share insights on ways to protect workers in a content marketing piece such as a paper, article, or even in paid “native advertising” content -- while at the same time acknowledging that they sell products. As long as the content provides authentic examples, strong research and credible reporting that discloses sources/resources, it can provide value to the readers that flows naturally from the product/service.

Tip 2: Practice the code of ethics of good reporting.

The code of ethics is a critical tool for any journalist writing stories, and at MG we use it when writing for our clients. The code states that writers must seek the truth and report it – this means verifying information before releasing it. Also, never plagiarize – be transparent by using reliable sources and accurately attributing anything you cite. In their role as an information gatekeeper to the public, it’s vital that content marketers, too, adhere to this process. In the long run, it helps ensure that the content you’re disseminating is fact based and inherently reliable and valuable to your readers – and it helps reinforce the trust readers have in your brand.  

Tip 3: Avoid unbranded microsites.

Microsites, or individual web pages or small clusters of web pages that act as a separate entity for a brand – such as social media platforms or company blogs -- can no longer be unbranded without a disclosure. At a time when a lack of transparency is often equated to trickery, it’s advisable to be upfront with your audiences on where you’re advertising and promoting content, whether it’s in a sponsored social media post or a native advertising piece in a magazine. Instead of hiding your logo, be proud and put it front and center on the page. This is also a way to support those sites that follow established and legitimate practices for vetting content.

Tip 4: Empower your readers to be “media literate.”

To help mitigate readers’ fears of being deceived by fake articles, let’s understand that it’s actually very easy to discover if an article is real or fake. First you can check the URL and see if it looks sketchy. One type of “fake news” site, the spoof site, contains a couple extra letters added to a familiar looking news site, like, for example.

You can also check to see if more than one source reported the same news. If you see an astounding or extreme statistic that doesn’t sound right, check to see if other publications are reporting the same news; if not, it’s more than likely inaccurate or uncorroborated at the least. Also, you can do a quick search of the publication to find out if it has a reputation for misleading readers with misinformation.

Another crucial step in examining articles is checking their publication date. Not only should you confirm that articles list a publishing date, but also that the date is recent, ensuring its relevancy. The reputable, fact-checking website Politifact can be a go-to resource for checking if an article is fake or not, as its purpose is to rate the accuracy of claims by elected officials. Another similar online resource is Snopes, which operates to validate and debunk stories involving American culture, an area often at the center of the “fake news” cycle.

Look for more resources from McDonnell Group in coming weeks and months as we launch a series of materials focused on helping energy marketing professionals succeed in content marketing.

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