Thought Leaders in association withPartners in Crime

Ethics in Content Marketing

Advertising Agency
Royal Tunbridge Wells, UK
INFLUENCER: Southpaw's Ria Campbell on how brands can build and protect the credibility of their social content

Deep Fake technology is causing growing concern ahead of the forthcoming US midterm elections, it was reported last month. Its implications extend beyond politics, however. At a time when social platforms are dragging their feet to take responsibility for distributing fake, misleading or otherwise unethical content, brand owners are in the front line too and must act fast to ensure the trust and credibility of their content.

Deep Fakes are fake video content created by AI-assisted algorithms that have so far put other people’s words into the mouths of politicians and, even, superimposed celebrities’ faces onto the bodies of porn stars. According to the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity, however, they may soon serve a much darker agenda – compromising the integrity of electoral democracy.

The relevance to brand content online may not seem immediately obvious. Consider the slowness of social platforms to combat fake content, however, and the risk becomes clear.

Take Facebook which, though recently behind a UK campaign claiming ‘fake news is not our friend’, also stated that news deemed fake would be demoted in the news feed, not removed. Or Twitter, which decided not to de-platform conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ fake news broadcasts despite Facebook and YouTube’s efforts to impose various and temporary bans.

The impact in each case has been to further fuel growing concern about mistrust of social platforms and, by association, the social content they distribute. Small wonder, then, that when asked by Edelman if they trust social media, those in the UK, Canada and the US who said ‘yes’ totalled just 41%.

Yet social media is now a critical channel for companies to advertise, conduct customer service, do research and – of course – sell. And a number of other recent studies highlight the pressing need for brands to take action.

First, consumers are increasingly holding brands responsible for the social media platforms on which they appear. More than two thirds agreed that brands should do more to counter false information, as well as protect users from offensive and harmful content, the Edelman study also found.

Second, consumer expectations of standards of brand behaviour on social media are high – and higher than how they expect they themselves to behave. Some 81% of participants in a Sprout Social study said brands on social media must be transparent (defined as sharing, not withholding information, responding to rather than ignoring customer questions and also questions from staff). This compares to 71% who believed they too should adopt the same standard of responsibility.

Finally, brand owners are continuing to invest heavily in brand content – social content, especially – despite remaining stumped when it comes to how best to evaluate social ROI. In a survey of US CMOs, spending on social media increased more in the preceding year than in any previous year’s survey and is now expected to rise to 16.3% of marketing budgets over the next year, rising to 22.9% by 2023.

Just because the volume of brands’ social content is increasing doesn’t necessarily mean that the quality and credibility of it has to automatically decline, of course. Even so, in our own recent survey the proportion of respondents ‘strongly’ or ‘somewhat’ agreeing that social media marketing is killing creativity in the marketing industry was a staggering 53%.

All things considered, many agree that now is the time to right social media’s moral compass. But, I would suggest, to protect the credibility of their own social content brand owners need to action themselves rather than simply sit back and await the deliberations of platforms and legislators.

To build and protect the credibility of their social content, a brand owner should consider five steps:

1. Adopt an attitude of ‘narrowcasting’. Just because nearly everyone is on social media doesn’t mean you ignore using a smart audience insights and segmentation strategy. It’s tempting to drive ‘mass awareness’ into multi-millions but appealing to everyone will please no one.  

2. Work with the platforms, not against them. Their features and functions rapidly evolve to make the user experience more delightful, entertaining and useful. As a brand owner talk to the platforms, get trained and use their expertise to make your branded social content the best and most purposeful it can be.

3. Enough bland product shots as like-bait already! What is the business problem? Social media is no different to any other more established channel: it will have an important role to play in the wider marketing mix but it is not a silver bullet solution and should not be treated as such.

4. Media spend is vital in a post-organic age. But deep pockets are not the answer either. What are you hoping to achieve? What are the metrics you should be tracking? For example if your audience or product is niche, follower growth is a pointless vanity exercise. 

5. Storytelling has never been so important in social media content but it only works brilliantly when the brand is facilitating and naturally playing an authentic role in that story. Always putting the brand in the spotlight – or indeed simply slapping an end line and logo on someone else’s story – isn’t enough. It’s a fine line but when done right, is authentic and genuinely brand building.

There’s no denying that we live in interesting times when it comes to the media landscape, but we also live in times where brands have more power to do good than ever before. By working together to bring trustworthiness back to social media, we’re not just helping ourselves – we’re helping bring positivity and truth back to what can be a force for good in our world.


Ria Campbell is head of content at Southpaw

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