Regardless of your politics, the 2016 presidential election was disconcerting for marketers as rumor, innuendo and mistruths spread on social media like a rash. This created pause at my firm as we asked ourselves an uncomfortable question: are we in the business of fake news?
Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) helps clients articulate thought leadership in the form of written articles, podcasts, videos and infographics and then publish on a micro-site or corporate blog. This content is promoted via search, social media and digital communications to attract an audience of business-to-business buyers.
The study of analytics serves as a roadmap to facilitate sales, business development, channel and other revenue-generating activities.
The sustained decline of the business press and trade media has opened an opportunity for companies that subscribe to a journalistic view of content. Educate…don’t sell…and you can absolutely build a community of high value readers.
When combined with a commitment to transparency, there is no way Strategic or its clients are purveyors of fake news. Or are we?
One former industry journalist thinks so. In an article posted on social media earlier this month, a media scribe offered a candid assessment of a crisis he believes exists in government technology:
Massive financial pressures have allowed non-media companies to enter the market under the guise of being legitimate journalism pursuits. From IT consulting firms to pure-play marketing and PR firms, these companies have formed “fake news” operations that are focused exclusively on serving their paying clientele with interviews, video programs, Q&As, blogs, research surveys, guest columns and even promises of quotes in stories.
The article – which has since been removed – detailed a specific example of the corrosive and conflicted nature of corporate sponsored news.
One of the sessions (at a conference) featured a presentation by the marketing director of a major government contractor. The audience listened carefully as he detailed how he had created a “news” publication and hired a well-known defense journalist to lead its reporting…But the marketing director said something else that anybody concerned about fake news would find highly disturbing: Editorial coverage decisions are made by executives in the contractor’s business development unit. Yes, business development executives get to have input on what topics and stories are covered in the pages of this fake news site.
The easy play for us at Strategic would be to chalk this up to a disgruntled journalist who finally reached a tipping point of frustration. Let’s just ignore it.
Yet, we didn’t let it go that way. We talked. We debated. We asked uncomfortable questions. Here is what we concluded:
- We don’t claim to be journalists. We identify ourselves and the mission of our sites, which we refer to as online buyer communities. We must be honest.
- We create content with integrity and transparency by identifying the companies we work for. We strive to avoid marketing speak and help our clients see the value to taking a more editorial approach. Plus, when possible, we share the opinions and thoughts of many — not just our clients.
- We respect the buyers we attract, and also recognize they too have a responsibility to verify what they read and the source it comes from.
- And finally, if we ever feel uncomfortable with what we are covering, it’s a red flag. We have an open conversation about it. We don’t let it fester. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right.