Social Media as Robocop: Regulating the World of Branded Content

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ADOTAS – There is no longer any doubt about the critical role that content now plays in most marketing strategies. Companies like Adobe, Yankee Group and Novell, among others, have all built sites that leverage original and third-party content to engage customers and prospects—and they are, in many cases, the go-to source for information about a specific topic relevant to their business.

A recent survey of marketers conducted by my company, HiveFire, found that almost half (48%) of marketers now implement content curation—the process of finding, organizing and sharing timely and relevant content—as part of their marketing strategies.

Content marketing has proven to be a very effective way for companies to establish thought leadership, boost SEO and generate leads. Its rise to prominence, however, has not been without challenges. The rapid growth of space has made it difficult for marketers to keep up with emerging best practices. In world where the rules are still being defined, who is responsible for keeping order?

You. Yes, you—if you’re one of the millions of people that use social media. In an online world where brands are increasingly acting as journalists and publishers, social media is emerging as the modern day Robocop to police this brave new world.

The Laws of the Land
Journalists’ and publishers’ jobs are not easy. So when marketers—who often have no formal training in journalism—try to take on their day-to-day tasks on behalf of a brand, it often doesn’t come as unnaturally and takes time to master. Although the rules are evolving as quickly as the space, there are a few agreed-upon best practices that already govern the space:

  • Be transparent: Always make it known when content is being written or distributed by a brand
  • Attribute and acknowledge: Give clear credit to the creator of all third-party content – and if the source is online, provide proper links
  • Be comprehensive: Tell a complete story—and this means you cannot omit facts  or competitors’ coverage
  • Don’t sell: In other words, skip the urge to include a blatant sales pitch
  • Add your own perspective: Have your own voice by complementing curated content with original material—this could be as simple as some context in a Tweet, an annotation to an article or an entirely new piece on a related topic

Keeping Order

In any large group, there will be outlaws. But when content marketing outlaws break the rules described above, they will be held accountable. This is good not only for the audiences engaging with the content, but also it is also good for all those marketers out there who are creating real value by delivering content and deserve to have their reputations upheld.

Traditional journalists often experience a similar trend: when those in their profession plagiarize material, ethical journalists are quick to call them out for their wrongdoing so it does not ruin the bad name of the industry overall.

Fortunately for the law-abiding brands out there, social media keeps content marketers honest. This works in three critical ways:

  • It happens in real time – Gone are the days when companies can behave badly now and be punished, with less notoriety, long after the crime. Remember how quickly news of Facebook’s attempts to place negative press stories about Google spread? It was due, in large part, to social media enabling people to immediately share news with their network.
  • It is industry agnostic – There is a network, group, hashtag, forum or some kind of social media for every imaginable sector. No niche is too small.
  • It consists of everyday people – We may be professionals, but we’re also people. And when people feel deceived, upset or cheated, they are going to share their frustrations—and in today’s world, this often happens via social media. Just think of the outrage over the BP oil spill—countless people vented their frustrations via social media (the tongue-and-cheek @BPGlobalPR among the more widely-known examples).  Follow ethics—in content marketing, as you would business—and you’ll avoid angering the public.

Curators Are Cops Too

There is a whole network of people to keep marketers in check when they may go astray. But marketers do not—and should not—feel like victims. In fact, content curators play the role of policeman on a daily basis, often without realizing it.

Every time a curator makes the decision to include—or not—a piece of content with an audience, it is a judgment on the relevancy and the quality of the content. If a piece of content contains factual errors or is poorly written, the curator is less likely to share it. Further, the curator may think less of the source when selecting content in the future.

Social media are the police force for branded content, and curators are their first-response team—often controlling bad content before it can be further distributed to the public. And together they do important work to regulate today’s brave new world of brands-as-publishers.

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