Most media publishers put a premium on accuracy and have a robust fact-checking apparatus in place for their content before it goes to press. But with a huge rise in non-media brands stepping into a publishing role, that attention to fact-checking isn’t always a given. However, if brand publishers are taking on the role of journalists, fact-checking content then becomes one of their most important journalistic obligations.
Sure, branded content may have different end goals than traditional media, whether it’s building brand awareness, converting leads, or ranking higher in SEO. However, the process and principles that go into creating branded content have more and more begun to resemble those of traditional media outlets and publishers. As droves of journalists leave their industry and enter the content marketing field, brands are constantly discovering new ways to deliver stories to their audiences. So whether you’re writing a hard-hitting op-ed or creating informative blog posts, statistic-driven infographics, and big rock content, we all need to implement the same rigorous, journalistic process.
And with the current global focus on real versus fake news, it’s more crucial than ever for publishers at both traditional news outlets and branded content providers to ensure their content is accurate. Case in point: A 2016 Gallup poll found that trust in mass media among Americans had dropped to an all-time low of 32 percent. With readers having so little trust in what they consume, brand publishers need to do all they can to ensure they don’t contribute to the fake news muck.
As Samantha Lile writes for the Visme Visual Learning Center, “The problem is, there is so much misinformation spread around that audiences no longer know what to believe. The concept of fake news, while often used to demean an unflattering report, is also a legitimate problem. The line between journalism and other content has blurred, making it more important than ever for all writers, regardless of their platform, to verify their facts. That group includes content marketers.”
Image attribution: picjumbo
Content creators and brand publishers should do all we can to avoid contributing to the “fake news” problem. This means that content marketers should be held just as accountable to deliver the truth as news outlets, if not more. While branded content may be written with a particular angle or consumer message in mind, it needs to be made clear that just because content is created with business principles, it doesn’t mean there’s no brand accountability for the information that brand chooses to convey. This is why making it a point to fact-check every piece of media your brand produces is imperative.
Just like how a brand in the health food industry needs to ensure the information on its nutritional label is correct to ensure safe public consumption, the content they push out needs to be just as accurate. This means that there need to be protocols in place for ensuring content meets expectations of accuracy.
Whether the content team is in-house or includes freelancers, the expectation is that there is a set step in the content creation process determining when to fact-check content, what determines a reliable information source, and who will be responsible for ensuring that this fact-checking is done. While the content creator is responsible for double-checking their work for factual errors before submitting, a single person is not enough to keep every error from circulation. Once a new piece of content is up for examination, it’s up to your team to determine the review order that best suits your editorial needs. Will a managing editor be responsible for checking facts for accuracy? Or does this fall in the copy editor’s lap?
Besides tasking specific staff with fact-checking, the extent of the follow-up should be discussed. For instance, should creators and editors only verify quantitative data like statistics, numbers, and linked studies? Or is it best to look into even anecdotal accounts and statements of opinion? Spelling out exactly what your expectations are to your fact-checkers is the best measure to prevent costly mistakes down the line.
Particularly for those creating content in heavily regulated industries such as healthcare, insurance, and finance, there is an added layer of legal accountability to keep in mind. These legal expectations, and the consequences for delivering false facts, must be understood in the planning stages of your content creation. Brand publishers need to work with the legal and compliance department to create a checklist of what types of language and information can or cannot be included, such as when to use specific industry jargon and the context of how to use certain specialty or controversial terms.
As a content creator who works in personal finance and insurance, I’m well aware that navigating compliance in highly regulated industries is a tricky process. Not being mindful of these nuances and adhering to these additional guidelines could create serious complications and push back deadlines as a piece undergoes the long process of legal scrutiny.
Image attribution: Glenn Carstens-Peters
Journalism isn’t dead. It’s merely shifting from traditional newsrooms to blogs, corporate journalism, and brand storytelling. As noted in an RMIT article on journalism’s new frontiers, “The principles that underpin much of a journalist’s work—such as investigation, ethics and engaging storytelling—remain relevant and can be used in a wider range of disciplines, including corporate communications, media advising and public relations.”
In the ongoing pursuit of journalistic standards within content marketing, fact-checking needs to remain a crucial part of the editorial process. In the escalating landscape of fake news and the shift of traditional journalism to brand storytelling, adhering to the high standard of journalistic principles, including fact-checking, boosts the credibility of your branded content.
The bottom line: While it’s not a given, it should be. Brand publishers need to do their part to make sure it’s not overlooked.
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Featured image attribution: Eepeng Cheong