Content marketing works because it delivers an honest message in a genuine voice. But to make the technique work over the long term, marketers have to be ready to verify the first half of that formula as well as we practice the second.
In a recent social media tip sheet, Toronto-based author and speaker Randall Craig focused on one of the big strengths that differentiate content marketing and social media from traditional sales messaging. “The best communicators have always known that effective writing connects at an emotional level with the reader,” Craig wrote. But
unfortunately, this point has been missed by many corporate communicators, who have blindly transplanted their impersonal corporate voice onto the social web. Or worse, who have adopted a breezy, hipster tone that is so far removed from the corporate brand that it is laughable.
Craig came up with four useful writing tips for “getting real” on Twitter and other social platforms:
- Owning a problem by avoiding the passive voice
- Speaking in the first person singular, rather than hiding behind the corporate ‘we’
- Using plain language
- Engaging in conversation, rather than declaration.
Testing the Message Against Reality
All good advice, and it works brilliantly as long as the underlying message is accurate and true. But at the risk of getting a bit…declarative, I have to wonder whether smart messaging is all it takes to keep an organization honest.
The idea of groundtruthing traces back to the worlds of geography, geology, and remote sensing, where it involves “sending technicians to gather data in the field that either complements or disputes airborne remote sensing data,” according to the Schrader Environmental Education Center in Wheeling, West Virginia.
Citizens have adapted the concept [pdf] as a participation tool to guide neighbourhood development. And when severe weather hits, forecasters and public agencies use groundtruthing through social media to supplement predictions and satellite images with up-to-the-minute reports from the front lines of a storm.
It’s About Credibility
Groundtruthing matters to content marketing because it sustains the credible, plausible voice at the heart of any campaign.
Content marketing succeeds when it’s believable, and that depends on the accuracy and honesty of the information we convey, not on the excellence of our spin. False or misleading content defeats the purpose and defeats the medium as a whole because it betrays the audience, leaving people even more suspicious of the next “genuine” message they encounter.
Sometimes, groundtruthing is easy: When marketers ply their trade for the tobacco industry, for example, most people understand that they’re pushing a deliberately addictive product that leads to a lingering, excruciatingly painful death when used as directed.
Sometimes, the ethical lines aren’t quite as obvious, and that’s when it’s a good idea to go the extra mile in researching the product or service we’re being asked to promote. It means time and effort, even when there are only 28 hours in the day and eight days in the week. But if the alternative is to build a campaign on information that is shaky at best, wouldn’t you rather secure the foundation before putting the rest of the structure in place?