Content marketing in the post-truth age

After “post-truth” was named Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year, the debate over content authenticity could have knock-on effects for content marketing

Facebook’s fake news woes have caused uproar in the world of digital content, with the social media leviathan embroiled in a controversy that could blight its reputation for years to come.

Executives have battled to contain the damage caused by reports from BuzzFeed highlighting the astonishing rate at which fake content is being published on the website. In light of the US presidential election, there is a concerning trend of authentic content losing out to mendacious alternatives in the battle for readers.

Despite Mark Zuckerberg’s reassurances, recent developments suggest a crisis in content authenticity has emerged. Squashed between a defiant Facebook thrashing out at its detractors and dubious news outlets spreading partisan lies, content marketers find themselves in a tricky position.

Could a renewed emphasis on authenticity to fill the social media truth vacuum be exactly what consumers are looking for? Or has the industry reached a turning point heralded by how seemingly unfashionable content authenticity has become?

Eccentric but authentic

In addition to providing the backdrop for the breakout of the fake news fracas, the US presidential election offered a lesson in the type of authenticity consumers are looking for.

Hillary Clinton is an experienced politician and campaigner, and ran a traditional, well-oiled presidential campaign. Donald Trump, to put it mildly, did things rather less conventionally.

Where Clinton was choreographed, Trump was off the cuff; Clinton prepared meticulously while Trump relied on his homespun idiosyncrasies. The result was that, despite not being everyone’s cup of tea, Trump cultivated a personal brand for himself as a dogged anti-establishment outsider, a lone voice of authenticity on the aloof landscape of American politics. In short, as American marketing aficionados have argued, the better marketer won the election.

The price of lying

The US election proves that the perception of authenticity is pivotal. This also explains why false content can obtain such high rates of engagement – slipping in a few exaggerated or outright false stories amidst a usually reliable offering is clearly a good way to pull in the punters.

But backing up perceptions with solidly authentic content is absolutely vital for content marketers. The stakes are too high to take risks. Despite his insistence that fake news stories published on Facebook had nothing to do with the election outcome, Mark Zuckerberg is now promising to use all the powers at his disposal to crack down on deceitful news outlets.

Fake content might pull in a few extra viewers, but in the long run too many groups stand to lose out to make this a viable content marketing strategy. Your brand (which gains a reputation for dishonesty), your consumers (who may seek retribution after making poor decisions upon your advice), the platform you’re marketing on (which, as in the case of Facebook, ends up just looking silly) and so on.

From deceptive doughnuts to not-so-wondrous winter wonderlands, brands are being pulled up on inauthentic portrayals of their offerings on a daily basis. One slip up when you’re trying to carve a reputation for yourself as a high-quality content producer, and you won’t be doing any more content marketing any time soon.

The authentic truth

Sometimes the truth is not particularly interesting, and bombastic lunges for attention via exaggerations and falsehoods can be tempting. But ultimately such a poorly thought-through strategy can only meet with doom, as any consummate content marketer will tell you. This is particularly true if you end up provoking the wrath of an internet giant like Facebook.

Perhaps political commentators and strategists could learn a lot from the world of content marketing. Content authenticity may be unfashionable, but ultimately it is indispensable.

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