Creating Trustworthy Content in a Fake News World
By David Burda | January 18, 2017
I’m real, and this blog post isn’t faked. But there’s no way for you to know for sure unless you ask my mom or my editor. You assume I’m real and I’m the author largely based on trust. You assume I’m not writing under a nom de plume or that someone else wrote this under my name or that someone just made up the whole post to trick you for fun or profit.
For content marketers, trust always has been important. But it’s becoming the coin of the realm in content marketing with the rise of fake news.
Fake news is real, but it’s not new. I believe it’s been around since the first caveman stretched the truth to incite another caveman to pick up a club and beat on another tribe. I do think the prevalence of fake news is growing and doing so for a number of reasons, including: a willing and/or gullible audience, faux or lazy journalists and instantaneous and no-cost content sharing over social and digital media channels.
To make matters worse, “advertising practitioners” finished below “journalists” on Gallup’s most recent poll that asked 1,000 adults to rank 22 different professions based on their honesty and ethical standards. The rise of fake news, then, creates a challenge and opportunity for content marketers.
For those who slip up and lose the trust of their audience, it could be game over. I mean, will you ever believe another Santa Claus actor who says a terminally ill child at a hospital died in his arms? I know I won’t.
But for those content marketers who gain the trust of their audience and know how to keep it, it could be game over for their competition as clients and prospects look to them for the truth in a world filled with fake news articles falsely accusing pizza parlors of being fronts for pedophile rings.
So how do content marketers gain the trust of their audience and keep it? What are the attributes of trust when it comes to content? I consider myself a skeptical/borderline cynical journalist. When I read or watch or listen to something to be informed or educated (versus entertained), here are some of the things that I look for in the content that makes it trustworthy:
Above all other attributes, accuracy is the most important. We’re not just talking about the overall information but the details. Is that the right number? Is it the right year? Is that the correct name of the report? Is the person’s name and title correct? Get one wrong, and everything else in the content comes under suspicion. Invest in a good copy editor or fact checker.
Thanks to the powers of digital publishing, attributing information in content to its original source is easy. Copy the URL, create a hypertext link, put it in the right place and you’re done.
Take me to the original source material, show me you’ve read it and understand it and I’ll trust your content. If I click on the link and it takes me to another piece of content on your site when I thought I was going to the New England Journal of Medicine, I know you just want me for my clicks, not my brain.
Probably the squishiest of the attributes, what’s credible to one person may not be credible to another. Me? I look to the source of the information.
The source could be a person. Does he or she have the background, education, knowledge, experience, expertise or position to speak credibly on a topic? Unless they’re talking about sales or marketing, I tend to ignore sales and marketing people as subject-matter experts. Their depth of knowledge is only as deep as their tenure at their most recent job.
If the source is a company or organization, I’m looking for another attribute—relevance, which I’ll explain next. I tend to ignore self-serving content that breathlessly finds that eight out of 10 people surveyed need what the company or organization is selling.
What’s important to the audience is what should be important to the brand and reflected in its content. It’s about issues, challenges, likes, dislikes, meeting goals, doing a better job, reaching a destination. If the content is about something I care about, I will trust it if it meets the other criteria.
If it’s something the brand cares about, I won’t trust it even if it meets the other criteria. Brands that do content poorly do a poor job of hiding the fact that they’re trying to scare you into buying one of their products or services. I wouldn’t trust someone who’s trying to scare you into action.
Things happen in every industry every day that create new issues, challenges, likes, dislikes, goals, jobs and destinations. When that happens, forward-thinking brands must adjust their content and explain immediately what that new thing means for them, whether that’s a new regulation or disruptive innovation or president.
Brands must immediately adjust the terminology, style, language, messaging, voice, tone and point of view in their content. Content that reflects what the audience is experiencing makes it credible and relevant and trustworthy.
Too often brands are reluctant to update tired and out-of-date messaging in content that their sales departments have come to expect. Are you saying cell phone or smart phone? Tape recorder or digital recorder? Car or horseless carriage?
The next time you consume a piece of content from a brand, hold it up against my five-part test. Is it accurate, attributed, credible, relevant and urgent? Then tell me if you trust it.