Monday’s Musings: Why Customers And Prospects Expect Clearer Rules About Content Marketing

Published on February 20, 2012 by R "Ray" Wang

Original Mission Improves Engagement Through Relevancy

Content marketing re-emerges as a hot topic and trend in improving engagement with existing customers and prospects.  Marketers can improve the likelihood of engagement through the creation and sharing of relevant information.  Typical delivery formats include advertorials, emails, branded websites, white papers, webinars, podcasts, and field marketing events.  Content marketers believe that educating a customers with high quality information will improve the likelihood of a sale due to brand association with expertise and thought leadership.  Content marketing is a powerful and effective approach when done well.

Many Marketers Will Abuse The Model As Marketer Objectivity Standards Go By The Way Side

As with all techniques, content marketing has the potential to improve brand relevancy and conversion.  However, when applied to social media, there is greater room for abuse.  Why? The speed of social media and the lack of rules creates a confluence of forces leading many content marketers to quickly blur the limits of objectivity.  How? By placing biased marketing content and associating with a known, objective, and trusted brand.  It’s happening with paid blogs, paid tweets, purchasing Facebook likes, thinly veiled advertorials in trusted magazine brands, and biased white papers disguised as objective research.

Though many will claim that a new generation could care less about objectivity, selling out on standards will create short term gain at a more punishing long term loss of trust.  In today’s social businesses, trust is the new social currency.  Without trust based on our actions, we destroy the basis for engagement and relationships.  In fact the newness and pureness of social media is what draws users to engage.  If marketers deafen the channel with the equivalent of ‘junk mail”, spam, and telemarketing in the guise of content marketing, the recipients will hit another level of social overload and disengagement.

The Bottom Line: Three Simple Disclosure Rules Can Improve Content Marketing In A Social World

As expected, a high level of ethics and self-policing is required to prevent abuse.  To keep content marketing as an effective tool, a few ground rules should be put in place to ensure that trust is not broken:

  1. Sponsored content should be clearly stated upfront. Recipients should know that the material is sponsored.  If embedded within the broader content of a trusted source, marketers should call out what’s sponsored.  Placing the words “Advertorial” in small font is misleading.  Not noting that content is sponsored in a webinar is misleading. 
  2. Sponsor affiliations should be easily identifiable. The company sponsoring content should prominently display or verbally indicate their name. Hiding the company name until the last page of a document is misleading.  Stating the sponsor name in a rapid voice in a podcast as part of the “small” text is misleading.
  3. Paid relationships should be openly noted. Recipients have a right to know the paid relationship status between the marketer and the channel.  This level of disclosure is key to ensuring trust.

Your POV

Agree or disagree with the disclosure rules?  Got one to add to the mix? Are you trying out content marketing?  Add your comments to the blog or send us a comment at R (at) SoftwareInsider (dot) org or R (at) ConstellationRG (dot) com

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  • Ray,

    Don’t you get the feeling that ‘unattributed’ Content Marketing is a bit like 1930s criminals on the lam? Finding new ways to rob banks before ultimately being caught. It’s mind boggling that marketers think that they can get away with it.

    There’s no way for these companies to hide because it is obvious that broadcast mentality is being used in social media. And, rather easy to discover the wizard behind the curtain.

    The irony is that having a subjective view on any subject is perfectly acceptable in social media. In fact, you use ‘POV’ blantantly. As you should. Because, in social media, business is personal. So, the net positive impact of fake editorials is much less than personal in-depth honesty. There is so much more value when understanding the writer’s point of view. This increases the value of the free content which provides the compelling proposition to take the offer (ie buy the analyst report or download the sample application)

  • Michael –

    Great points. maybe the CMI can adopt these as best practices. It’ll stop the bad content marketing!


  • Ray,

    Thanks again for raising this issue and continuing the dialogue. As Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute likes to point out, content marketing started with cave paintings so this is nothing new but social media brings with it new challenges in regard to trust and potential abuse.

    I agree with your ground rules, especially since it is in the advertiser’s best interest to highlight any relationship (such as sponsored content) as the intent is to show affiliation with the topic as opposed to selling.

    What I think the real problem is not content marketing but bad content…marketing.

    I can’t imagine anything that we can do to stop bad content from hitting social channels. But I do believe that the transparency of social and the more educated and critical content consumer will continue to vote with their feet (or eyeballs) and with their ability to create a backlash.

    My suggestion is that the ground rules need to be a shared responsibility:
    1> Publishers need to clearly label sponsored content as separate from their own editorial

    2> Marketers need to work harder to add more value in their content instead of veiled attempts at promoting themselves

    3> Content Consumers & Buyers share some of the burden to simply ignore bad content marketing or call us out when we cross the line
    This is a great discussion and looking forward to any additional thought?

    Best, Michael

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