Don’t Trust This Blog Post (And How to Write Posts that Can Be Trusted)

Posted on June 20, 2011 by Jeff Sweat

The first thing you should know when you read this blog post is that you may not want to trust it.

I used to be a journalist—the very first online reporter for Tony’s InformationWeek, in fact—and now I edit the Yahoo! Advertising Blog. I’ve had plenty of time to think about the differences between journalism and brand journalism, another term for corporate blogging.

And I think that brand journalism is... well, not journalism in any form. That term needs to banished. But no matter what it is or what it’s called, it can still bring its readers content that matters. It can also help turn readers into customers, which is why marketers should get it right.

Bias? It ain’t so bad

Journalism, in my rosy view of journalism, depends on the ability to report facts as objectively as possible despite the biases of the reporter. Bloggers, on the other hands, wear their biases on their sleeves. And that’s OK—if readers know what the biases are and can embrace them, they’ll find stuff that’s worth their while.

On my blog, for instance, you’ll find lots of great advice for advertisers (so says my bias), some plugs for Yahoo!, and not very many plugs at all for our competitors. You also won’t see many digs at our competitors because it’s bad PR and it’s just the way I was raised.

How to win trust

If you want to give people a shot at looking past your bias to the content beneath, you have to find ways to build their trust. The ways I do that are borrowed, not surprisingly, from journalism.
  1. Tell the truth. *Sigh* I shouldn’t really have to spell this out, should I? Don’t lie. Don’t even spin. If you can’t figure out how to say something without making yourself look bad, just don’t say anything.
  2. Be suspicious of adjectives. I’ve banned adjectives like “innovative,” market-leading,” and “world-class” from my team’s communications. They don’t mean anything and, honestly, what else would people expect you to say about your own products? I make my writers show me why we’re innovative, not just say that we are. You have to earn your adjectives.
  3. Do some reporting. Just because you bought the megaphone doesn’t mean you can shout out anything you want. If you’re trying to make a controversial point (Like my look at Twitter as a marketing tool), do some research, interview experts, and try to show a counterpoint. (I’m not offering a counterpoint because I hope this is common sense.)
  4. Be useful. My goal with our blog is to have 25% of the stuff about Yahoo!, and 75% of it content that helps our advertisers do their jobs. Does talking about something other than yourself make you more trusted? I think so. But it certainly makes you less boring.
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