Trustworthy content is in the best interests of corporations... and good for professional journalists

Media houses assume they are still trusted and that their move to “communities” filled with sponsor-developed content has not hurt that position. That assumption is misplaced.

It’s time to wrap up this series on truth and trust in content.  Over the past few posts I’ve talked about how truth appears differently to people, based on their personal perspective, and to report truth you need to view it from multiple angles.  I’ve also showed how modern media lacks the resources to gather that information adequately and how corporations, once dedicated to limiting that access through their marketing, now find it in their best interest to increase the flow of trusted information.  

Let me set the table.

Content marketing is not SEO. Tara Meehan’s post in iMedia Connection demonstrated how companies measure social on SEO metrics of clicks and unique visitors in the form of likes and followers, neither of which has the value they did 5 years ago.  This decreased value in SEO metrics is exacerbated by companies buying fake followers and B2B publishers paying people to comment and like content to boost their engagement.  This approach ultimately fails after a certain period of growth because those companies don’t provide anything worth reading.

Trust thrives in social media Brian Solis wrote recently that trust is the the most important issue in Brian-soliscontent development but corporations that focus on search to bring people to websites, fail to engender trust because people don’t trust corporate website content.  People trust people they know so that’s who they go to first.  Search comes after social now and social is all about content.

Tech journalism isn’t what it used to be.  Tom Foremski wrote that tech journalism has devolved to be a practice of product announcements rather than why those products exist and how native advertising is destroying the level of trust for third-party media. He stops short of pointing out that tech publications are so short of writers that they can do little else and native advertising is paying the bills, but his point is that the current paradigm has reduced the value of tech journalism.

That’s why this is a great time to be a journalist.

Media houses assume they are still trusted and that their move to “communities” filled with sponsor-developed content has not hurt that position.  That assumption is misplaced. Few people trust journalists in general and B2B corporate sales staff are learning that what shows up in the press is much less believable because native advertising is becoming harder to differentiate from independent reporting.  Rather than wonder what the media will do to reverse that trend, corporations are learning they can do the job better by hiring or contracting with experienced journalists to do what they do best: find the news and report it accurately. Corporations have more relevant sources of content than the media.  All they need is the personnel to turn that content into trustworthy media.

Some technology companies have started putting journalists on retainer to develop engaging content that builds relationship and trust for the corporation.  Others are hiring them outright to run content programs.  They don’t need million-reader circulations because they know who they want to reach and it’s much lower than a million. 

That is great news for all the journalists who want a position that gives them the time and resources to do what they’ve been trained to do and be paid what they are worth.  As I’ve said, corporations are already finding the value in independent, in-house and consultant journalists and they are paying top dollar for them.  Working with this new breed of journalism requires accepting a level of ethics and independence of thought not normally found in marketing departments but is absolutely necessary for a successful outcome.  If we can’t be independent, what we create has no value to the sponsor or the reader.

 Traditional third-party media businesses are becoming the training ground for new journalists.  There will be an ongoing market demand for product-announcement venues that reach thousands of users so the online and print pubs won’t be going away, but corporations don’t need those venues to establish relationships and trust within their customer base.  They need people who know how to find truth wherever it is and report it, be transparent, and act independently for the benefit of the community.

Trustworthy content is the core of Footwasher Media’s business.  If you are interested in moving your business communications into the 21st century, contact us today.


Those filthy corporations will save journalism

In the last couple of posts, I’ve focused on how the social audience is demanding trustworthy content and how the media is largely failing to meet that demand.  Today I want to focus on where they are actually starting to get it:

The corporations that used to be advertisers.

Yes, the very organizations that are accused of perverting journalism are actually the source of salvation for journalism, currently in the B2B tech world primarily, but it will expand.  I’ve written about this process for several years now, but here’s a recap of how it happened. Rji_q10a_0

  • The world wide web made it possible for corporations to distribute press releases and marketing material to the customer base through email and websites, bypassing traditional media.  Advertising revenue was diverted in the budgets for those purposes.

  • The drop in revenue caused the media to start cutting editorial staff making comprehensive coverage of industries very difficult if not impossible.

  • The audience for the media began to notice the drop off in coverage quality and started losing audience trust.  Circulation suffered but the media had already turned to electronic distribution and found ways to fudge readership numbers and engagement to keep the ad rates up.  The advertisers were not sure they were getting accurate numbers but could not prove it.  Advertising budgets continued to shrink.

  • The media began to realize they had pretty good lists of subscribers and could create “communities” out of them and sell access to those communities to former advertisers to help them become “journalists” and rebrand their marketing materials.  Since the corporations were providing 90 percent of the content, the media could jettison more editorial staff and use the remaining to edit the marketing content into something resembling news, and charge up the wazoo for the service.

  • The corporations learned a very interesting: There lists of their customers and potential customers were as good or better than the media’s.  So why did they need to pay for the media lists.  They also discovered there were services that would repurpose content elsewhere (they used to be called plagiarists) and deliver it to the corporations for their own internal media.

  • Then they learned that those services produced crappy content that no one read.  They learned this because they hired other services to give them readership information they could not get from the media.

  • Then they realized that there are a lot of out of work journalists who will work for less than the media wants to charge them for the services of an experienced journalist... and they would be happy to do the work because it paid better than their media jobs paid.  The corporations now had the ability to be their own media and by allowing their in-house journalists more editorial freedom than they were getting from third party media, they could raise the level of trust their customers would have for them.

This last bullet point is where we are today and it is only just beginning.  Intel, Qualcomm, Adobe, and a long list of significant companies have already launched independent online publications, run by significant journalists.  Other companies, like Cadence Design and Oracle, have created editor-in-chief positions to oversee all social content and filled the positions with solid journalists.  Slowly but surely, the importance of truth seen from multiple positions and developing trust has become a core principal for many corporations.

So if corporations in the B2B space are taking over for third party media, what does the future hold?  That’s next.

Your content can be fictitious and be truer than your data sheet

hat you have to realize is that to your customers, your view of the truth is nowhere near as important as theirs is to them. That seems like such an obvious statement, and I bet you think you actually know what your customers consider to be true. But from what I hear from customers and from advertisers and from readers, very few companies and publications actually have a clue regarding what those audiences consider to be truth.

In my last post I talked about the importance of understanding truth from other perspectives, rather than focusing only on yours.  Today I want to give you a specific example. 

Dan Lyons over at Hubspot wrote a blog post last month about the use of content to build trust and relationship by demonstrating truth... even though it was complete fiction.

You can see the video content produced by Google India on the blog, but briefly it was about how two young people in Pakistan and Lahore transcended national bigotry, politics and xenophobia using technology.  But the story itself may or may not have been true because it was obviously staged.  You don’t actually have to have a true-life story to demonstrate truth.  It was true in that it demonstrated the power of a technology, but it’s essence was not to sell anything but to show that, properly used, technology can overcome bad human traits.  It put technology in an appropriate context for the audience and gives them a call to action other than just asking for a sales call.  It makes them WANT to USE the product... which they can’t do unless they ask for the call.=

Imagine.  Somebody actually wanting a sales call.

As I said last week, truth is relative to everyone.  What you have to realize is that to your customers, your view of the truth is nowhere near as important as theirs is to them.  That seems like such an obvious statement, and I bet you think you actually know what your customers consider to be true.  But from what I hear from customers and from advertisers and from readers, very few companies and publications actually have a clue regarding what those audiences consider to be truth.

In a report published last April, DemandGen Report published their 2013 B2B Content Preferences Survey stating that while 92 percent of respondents said they were willing to accept vendor generated content as trustworthy, they are less likely to accept white papers and e-books as trustworthy content.  Why? Because a white paper is supposed to be an objective approach to solving a problem and will have no sales messages, but when was the last time you saw something like that?

The survey say that 72 percent of the respondents said sales-heavy content was a problem for trustworthiness, and 64% wanted B2B vendors to stop producing text-heavy pages and small print.  The majority (57.8%) of respondents agreed that B2B vendors focus too much on product specifications and not enough on the ability to solve specific business problems. 

The first step for any marketer in our new world of context-based, trustworthy content is to realize that what you see as true, is not to your customers.


Before you can tell the truth, you need to know it.

For our second part of the series on truth in media I think it’s important that we define the term. 

Truth is multifaceted and largely determined by perspective.  This is a crucial understanding of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which says what you perceive from where you stand may not jive with the perception of someone standing right next to you.  Media, from the beginnings of the oral tradition to mass media of the 20th century was designed to create a common perspective for large groups of people and take away some of the debate over what is true.

The media of the of the 20th century was controlled by a relatively few corporations and individuals and reached millions of people.  That made it possible to maintain a certain control over a specific message and establish a few facets of truth as common to the masses.  This was the basis of McLuhan’s concept of the “media is the message.” Large groups of people could be convinced of a particular facet of truth simply because the message was drilled into them from a relatively small number of outlets. Truth became “obvious.”

The 21st century changed that paradigm.  Individuals, through the internet and social media, became members of the media.  They could publish their own perspective to a small group of people.  The masses are broken into virtual communities defined more by their perspective of truth rather than geography, culture and even race or religion.

The corporation or organization that doesn’t realize this to be the new way of perception will be very frustrated in its attempts to push its version of reality/truth if it continues to follow the 20th century practice of driving the message until it is perceived as true.  It is imperative that the message incorporates as many facets as possible into its message in order to gain the trust of its market.  Let me elaborate with a story.

A company has a new product that it has created and wants to promote it to its market.  The teams in charge of developing this product has invested a great deal of time, expertise and effort into creating this product and they believe everything they say about it.  They have even validated their message by investing in market research from a large analyst company.  They launch their product into the market, sure that they have done all that is necessary.

Shortly after the launch, a customer has problems with the product and calls technical support.  After many frustrating sessions he opts to return the product, but since technical support could find nothing wrong with it, the company refuses to take the product back.  After all, he’s just one customer and no one else has complained.

It turns out the customer is a fairly well-respected technical blogger and he starts writing a series on his experiences with the company.  A journalist at a major newspaper starts reading the blog and writes a story about it.  The news spreads like wildfire and multiple other customers who have not been as vocal start chiming in.  By the end of 6 months the company has lost billions in market capitalization as its stock plummets.  The company ends up publicly apologizing and delivering an adequate product.

That’s not a fiction.  That actually happened to Dell Computer.  The blogger and his site “Dell Hell” still exists and has been since 2008.

All Dell had to do was consider, just for a moment, the perspective one customer considers as true and realize if there is one, there are more.

Every customer you have has a perspective different from your company.  Every employee has a different perspective from your company.  Every competitor has a different perspective from your company.  That is the ultimate truth in business communication.  If you are not making an attempt to listen to those perspectives everyday and considering how you can positively respond to them, you do not know what is true.

Trust is the new currency in marketing

Recently read a post over at Hubspot (that I can't find right now) about how companies are lowering their investment in communication tactics because they are disappointed at the  results.  The author blamed the decline not on the efficacy of the tactics, but on how poorly they are implemented by the companies.

I can't say I disagree with him entirely.  Most of the marketing communications plans I see are more checklists than plans (press release, check; trade show booth, check...) While there is tremendous investment made in the marketing infrastructure, I see almost no investment in content and content is the gas that makes the marketing machine go.

Few companies I talk to believe they have great content, and when we review what they have we tend to agree.  It’s the same press releases, the same marketing brochures, the same white papers, and the same contributed articles that everyone else produces... and they read almost identically to every other companies content creating absolutely no differentiation.  The excuse is they lack the budget and resources to create any content, much less effective content, and when they try to bring in resources to do just that, it is the smallest investment possible.  I've even had several potential clients ask for us to create it for free because it would be good "exposure" for us.

 For content to be effective it must be intentional. You have to know not only where you are going, but how to get there.  If you believe a sales pitch is the best way about reaching your goal, you have ignored the path and all you are doing is wandering in the wilderness.  The beginning of the path is establishing trust. I have not yet found anyone who disagrees with that statement, but I've found very few marketers who have the time to work on that first step, much less an understanding how to start.

For the next few weeks, we will be exploring the path of truth in marketing communications and why any deviation from the path will spell doom for your efforts.

Chris Edward did a post yesterday from over the "pond" on the blurring of the lines between PR and journalism, as personified by PR giant Edelman.  Some journalists are concerned about the lack of a filter in a medium controlled by corporate flacks, but Edwards correctly states that most of that concern is unwarranted.

"The trend in recent years, despite all the talk about engagement and two-way communication, has been to sell, sell, sell. Don't go off-message, no matter how dull that message might be. Because no-one is going to get fired for sticking to the pre-approved script. At least not until companies start to see their profiles become less and less prominent. Then they might have a go at proper communication."

Proper communication is not just controlling the medium.  It's all about conversation.  And if you try to control the conversation, it becomes a monologue, not communication.

The key here, as I have said before, is ethics and a dedication to truth.  That's primarily why I can't really call most of what passes for public relations as anything more than marketing communications.  Real PR is an advocacy effort, but ALWAYS tempered by truth, not spin.  And until people in corporations realize this, they will be no more successful with their efforts to reach the public then they have in the past.

Good call, Chris.