3 Lessons brands can learn from the new era of journalism

Khoros Staff

Editor's Note: This post was originally created by Spredfast before Spredfast and Lithium merged and became Khoros.

Studies have shown that a majority of adults get their news from social media, but because our feed is populated largely by the ideas and people we agree with, we’re only served the stories and perspectives we “like.” Could this echo chamber be dangerous, or rife with unintended consequences? Do networks have the responsibility to represent multiple points of view? These are a few of the questions that we explored during SXSW.

We dove into this phenomena of tunnel vision during a panel that featured Jon Keegan, a former visual correspondent at the Wall Street Journal who created Red Feed Blue Feed, and Mike McKenna, an award-winning creative director.

While I knew that I’d learn about curated content and the role of social media in our everyday tunnel vision, what I didn’t realize was how applicable these learnings would be to brand marketers. Here are three lessons that brands can take away from the new era of journalism and media:

1. Be upfront and honest about your mistakes

Like news sources, brands must be upfront and honest with their consumers when they make a mistake. Keegan noted that a great test of an outlet’s character is how they handle misprints, edits, and errors. He advised us to consume a broad and diverse news diet, but to choose our outlets by how they handle a mistake.

Both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have rigorous processes for reporting and correcting errors in stories. When a published mistake is found at either of these newspapers, they must report a correction. Other outlets, by contrast, will take the story down or just not correct it at all. Like when a brand errs, ignoring the problem or hoping it passes isn’t the solution. Brands—and media—must hold themselves accountable to the truth, be transparent when they make mistakes, and choose openness in communicating and explaining what happened with their consumers.

Brands and media must hold themselves accountable to the truth.

In 2014, American Apparel used an image of the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy for a Fourth of July social post, mistaking the explosion for fireworks. When they realized their error, they immediately retracted the post and replaced the image with a profuse apology. They explained how the error occurred, deleted the post from all of their channels, and refined their process for social publishing so that a mistake like that wouldn’t happen again.

Like strong and truth-based journalists, American Apparel was transparent and open to admitting and correcting their mistake. Choosing to ignore or sweep the error under the rug in hopes that no one notices creates misgivings, skepticism, and ultimately, an untrustworthy brand reputation and a cynical consumer base.

2. Stay grounded in your North Star

The trifecta between brands, politics, and news has never been more converged nor more politically and emotionally charged. Journalists aren’t the only players in today’s rough political minefield: Brands, too, are being pulled into the world of media—and they have to learn how to navigate the waters. How they steer through this fraught climate must be grounded in their corporate values and mission.

One news site in particular has forced brands to reevaluate what their advertising platforms imply to consumers. According to AdAge, over 800 brands, including BMW, Visa, and T-Mobile, have pulled their media dollars from ultra-conservative news site Breitbart. Breitbart has been criticized for publishing incendiary statements and articles, many of which spout views at odds with the values of the corporations that advertise there. When alerted of their presence on the site, brands haven’t shied away from their response. As Warby Parker pulled their advertisements from Breitbart, they stated, “As a company, we are committed to building a diverse and inclusive community that treats everyone with respect and dignity, and it’s important to us that our advertisements appear on sites that believe in those same values.”Kellogg was another brand to remove Breitbart from their media plan. They also made a values-based statement on their decision: “We regularly work with our media-buying partners to ensure our ads do not appear on sites that aren’t aligned with our values as a company.” Brands that would otherwise blindly advertise on a high-traffic website are tackling controversy with a values-first approach.

Brands that would otherwise blindly advertise on a high-traffic website are tackling controversy with a values-first approach.

The New York Times used the Academy Awards to launch their first television brand campaign in a decade. Centered around the NYT’s pursuit of “The Truth”, the omnichannel advertisement gets to the heart of their North Star. Although we wouldn’t usually consider the NYT to be traditional advertisers, they acted like a brand in this opportunity, providing Oscar viewers and news consumers with a direct punch at their mission to serve quality, truthbound journalism.

McKenna noted that companies like New Balance, L.L. Bean, Budweiser, Uber, Under Armour, and Patagonia have either been pulled into the fray of politics and media or they’ve chosen to proactively take a stand and play a role in the conversation. Regardless of whether they’ve jumped in or were dragged in, the brands that stayed firmly rooted in their North Star were the brands that successfully navigated the hazards of this new trifecta.

3. Be aware of the full ramifications of your product

A 2016 study by the Pew Research Center found that 62% of adults get their news from social media. With our feeds as our primary news source, Keegan discussed how responsible the networks are to this kind of product usage. The responsibility, he declared, begins with a full awareness of the ramifications of your product’s use cases.

62% of adults get their news from social media.

Keegan gave the audience the specific example of Facebook Live. While Facebook blazed ahead with innovations, Keegan noted the importance of them staying keenly aware of how their already-launched products were being used. Facebook Live was designed to be a fun live-streaming feed with floating happy faces. In addition to that, however, it also became a vehicle to expose war, tragedy, and crime. To fully understand how a product is used, networks—and brands—must bring more diverse products users into their design.

Just like we all must get out of our bubbles in order to be fully informed of current events, we must also get out of our cultural bubbles when designing, building, and promoting products. We must engage with personas outside of our experiences, our culture, and our worlds to completely understand the potential use cases of our products.

Because brands are navigating the same treacherous waters as media outlets and journalists, there is much to be gained by taking the lessons those outlets have learned and applying them to your high-level marketing and brand strategies. Keep this advice in mind as you build a brand that is transparent, mission-driven, and culturally responsible.

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