5 road rules for ethical content marketing

Digital marketing image

Digital marketing image

Imagine the busiest urban streets and intersections sans road rules or traffic signals. It would be chaos, and the risks would far outweigh the reward of getting from A to B. Just as rules keep drivers organised (and sane), codes of conduct apply to publishers and advertisers on the crowded ‘highways’ of content marketing.

While the government imposes and enforces driving laws and regulations, content marketing rules are codified in a different manner. Ethics, or community standards, (not laws), are relied upon to keep content marketing, and subsets such as native advertising, in check.

These five road rules will help keep you travelling on the moral side of the marketing road.

1. Be discoverable, not disruptive

By definition, content marketing is a way to engage people in a non-disruptive way. Try to present and distribute material that doesn’t interrupt a person’s flow of content consumption. Just as it’s taboo to cut someone off in traffic, don’t force your audience to slam their brakes for distracting salesy messages.

2. Be credible, logical, and emotional

Today’s content marketer must use a balance of ethos (credibility), logos (logic) and pathos (emotional appeal) when engaging with audiences. Traditional online advertising focused on pathos to get an audience to act, and it’s the tactic behind many questionable click baity ads dominating the sponsored line-up. However, long-term brand loyalty, trust, and meaningful engagement will only come from injecting ethos and logos into content. Lack of credibility or logic will only undermine brand value and taint audience perception.

3. Be transparent

Just as heavily tinted car windows draw suspicion, so does opaque content marketing. Transparent disclosure is critical for any type of sponsored content that sits alongside, or is presented as editorial. This includes links that take people off a website; paid for placement op-eds; and even data from a study commissioned by an affiliated brand.

4. Take editorial control

It’s crucial that today’s publishers take the steering wheel for all content marketed on their site. Just as you have full editorial oversight over ‘in house’ content, you should also demonstrate full control over sponsored third-party content distributed on the same site.

As a publisher, think first about your readership and why audiences come to your site in the first place. A lack of transparency and editorial discretion will only sabotage user metrics over time.

5. Always listen

Driving with headphones isn’t illegal in a lot of places, but it could hamper a driver’s ability to hear things going on around them, such as a horn honking, emergency vehicle siren or train horn. It’s just as important for publishers and advertisers to keep ears open and listen to audiences when sharing and distributing content, via listening channels and a response plan.

The digital horizon

When intertwined and executed well, content marketing and ethics empower publishers and advertisers to monetize through long-term reader trust, earn their commitment, and expand reach to even more engaged and qualified audiences.

To simply ignore the responsibility of content ethics risks ‘fueling’ banner blindness beyond repair, and accelerating onset of ad-block technology – no matter how useful, and valuable, the content. At this point, potential audiences may simply exit the vehicles of content consumption and walk away altogether.

Who’s driving your content bus?



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