Fake news is a real problem — and not just for journalists.
Look no further than a new survey that says 75-percent of Americans find it difficult to determine what news is accurate and what is not. Worse yet, when Stanford researchers studied the ability of students to analyze the credibility of information online — the same kids we all consider “digital natives” — the researchers described the results as “bleak.” They were “shocked” by how many students failed to effectively evaluate the credibility of that information.
So, what’s the solution? “The world needs the truth now more than ever,” says Hamish Nicklin of The Guardian. “In a world where the most important people on the planet are using fake news to undermine the values so many of us hold so dear,” she told a roomful of reporters at The Guardian’s 2017 Media Summit, “it has never been so important that we have a strong and vibrant media, and remember that facts and truth are sacred.”
Although she was speaking specifically to journalists, the same advice holds true for content marketers. As the audience grows more skeptical, content needs to grow more credible. Click bait, re-purposed press releases, and glorified commercials just won’t hold up to the tougher scrutiny, and they might even get you in trouble. In the past, the audience might just click away. But now that the audience is more skeptical, bad content runs the risk of getting lumped in with all of the other fake stuff — and actually harming your brand.
Do you really want to take that chance? Instead, focus on real facts and true stories. Be genuine. Be honest. Fight the fake news epidemic by using the same tactics that journalists use to bridge the credibility gap.
Use the principles of journalistic objectivity to build your credibility.
You’d be surprised how many newsroom discussions involve “Big J” journalism — the stuff we learned in journalism school. Most of those conversations involve integrity, or, in the words of the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics, the mandate to “seek the truth and report it.” Following that mandate, and showing it as transparently as possible, is the easiest way for journalists to separate themselves from fake news.
For marketers, I’d make the mandate even simpler: “Don’t BS your audience.” Content marketing is supposed to be all about answering the audience’s questions. Giving them what they’re looking for. When people click on a headline, they expect content that delivers. They expect relevant information that will help them. Try to manipulate them with ham-handed marketing messages and you’ll lose your credibility quickly.
For journalists, this means “follow the truth.” Don’t let advertisers (or anybody else) influence your coverage. That’s why there’s a separation of “church and state” in newsrooms — to keep the sales department and their advertisers away from the journalists. That independence breeds objectivity, impartiality, and credibility.
Marketers who force themselves to act independently will notice similar results. Nothing builds credibility like pure honesty. Avoid the temptation to act like a salesman. In fact, consider mentioning the competition as a way to showcase your objectivity. And don’t shy away from admitting they’re actually better on a few occasions. They’re going to find that out anyway, but when they learn it from you, your credibility will shine through.
For journalists, this is easy. Real stories should seem more real than the fake ones. For content marketers, it takes a lot more discipline. It’s tempting to repurpose a press release or brochure, but is that what your audience is looking for?
If you put on your journalist’s hat and focus on real stories and information instead of your marketing story, you’ll build credibility. Create content that fills a need or answers a question and then ask yourself, “what is the next step the reader needs to take?” By answering the reader’s questions and making it easy for them to take the next step, you’ll begin to create a relationship of trust and open up the doors for further communication.
I’m not talking about Woodward and Bernstein — they were dealing with confidential sources. I’m talking about the way content marketers can build credibility by simply citing source information properly. For starters, why should I believe you’re using a fact from a study in proper context if you don’t link to it? Same thing with a quote. Let me see where you got it.
Besides building credibility with your transparency, you’ll also add an extra layer of objectivity. When you link to the source, you’re likely to vet it further. If it doesn’t feel like something you’d want your reader to see (whether it’s out of context, not the original source, or anything else that doesn’t feel right), you might reconsider using it. That a level of extra thoughtfulness that’s guaranteed to elevate both the quality and credibility of your content.
Seeing is believing. It’s as simple as that. Showing a video instantly boosts your credibility because it allows the audience to see or hear for things with their own eyes and ears. Think of this the way you think when you look at one of those glossy hotel photos that’s just too good to believe. Now picture how you feel when it’s replaced by a short video. You see more of the room and you feel like you’re seeing it with your own eyes. It instantly starts to feel more credible.
Now think through the same thing with other examples, like a testimonial or case study where a recorded interview lets the audience vet the endorsement for ourselves. Same story for a demonstration or any other video. It simply feels more transparent and objective because there’s more information to process (both audio and video) and more access to it.
Make no mistake, fake news is a legitimate threat to all content creators. It muddies the waters of the entire internet. However, that threat also creates a giant opportunity for content marketers who embrace the principles of journalistic objectivity. With an increasingly knowledgeable and skeptical audience on the other end, producing “good” content will not only burnish your brand’s credibility but it will help distance your content (and your brand) from those who don’t.
This article originally appeared in The StoryTeller Media Blog.