This week, the news broke of the death of William Shakespeare (no, not that one) - the first man to receive a Covid-19 vaccine.
At 81 years old, his unfortunate death was the result of a stroke. So, how was this reported by some media outlets? Let’s take a look what everyone’s favourite toilet paper alternative, the Daily Mail, had to say on the matter:
Yep, that’s right - despite already widespread vaccine hesitancy, the Daily Mail still chose to run a headline using intentional ambiguity. Why? Because clickbait headlines get more engagement.
Thanks to the 24/7 news pushed to our social feeds, many users no longer feel the need to read news articles. Instead, they form opinions around the headlines they’ve seen - what could possibly go wrong with that?
Tabloid journalists often use this to their advantage, creating headlines that imply correlations where they simply don’t exist: ‘first man in the world to get approved Covid jab is dead’.
Doing this serves two purposes: firstly, an abundance of article shares from anti-vaxxers who believe the headline asserts their viewpoints. Secondly, an abundance of clicks from readers looking to clear up the intentional ambiguity created.
The takeaway? Tabloid journalism has one primary aim: engagement. Not only that, but the desire for engagement is often far greater than the desire to provide factual accuracy OR public reassurance. Nice one.
This got us thinking: as content markers, engagement is often a primary goal. But, in the pursuit of clicks, comments, shares and likes, should you ever sacrifice your ethics in your content?
Here’s why the answer is a resounding ‘no’.
Why content ethics matter
With great content comes great responsibility.
Any truly great piece of content demonstrates authority and expertise on the topic at hand. However, this only works based on one core assumption: the writer is striving to provide genuine, factual value.
The moment this is no longer the case, your content strategy collapses. The reasons for this are twofold.
Firstly, you’re no longer abiding by SEO and content marketing best practices, meaning performance inevitably suffers.
Secondly, you’re abusing your readers’ trust. Not only does this undermine the long-term goals of content marketing - such as community building and brand recognition - but it also abuses a moral code to which marketers should always adhere.
This moral code - an expected benchmark of honesty, transparency and accuracy - is a brand’s duty to its customers. This is because content has a highly persuasive power to inspire thoughts, feelings and actions. This sense of responsibility has only been heightened in recent years by consumer pressure to be more ethically conscious, too.
Not as simple as you might think…
Creating ethical content is easier said than done.
Ultimately, the role of a marketer is to attract and persuade. This can lead to a blurring of the line between ethical and unethical content - how is transparency affected by exaggeration, bias or agenda, for example?
The trick is finding a conscientious balance. Any professional content writer should be able to employ creative technique without having to mislead their audience. It’s all about having an awareness of implications, interpretations and impact.
Features of ethical content
So, what are some of the techniques you can embrace to ensure your content stays on the right side of the line?
Curiosity, not outrage
Clickbait is incredibly effective at driving engagement, but, as proven at the start of this blog post, this isn’t always done ethically.
Clickbait often gets a bad rap for exploiting outrage. This is usually achieved through finding a controversial or polarising topic, then strongly reaffirming or contrasting an audience’s viewpoint to stir engagement.
Instead, clickbait can be just as effective in driving engagement when it champions curiosity over outrage. So, if you’re keen to utilise clickbait in your own headlines, look to influence your readers’ impulses through more ethical means: leverage your audience’s curiosity.
You can learn all about how to do this in our handy blog post on headlines, but, in short, it’s all about adopting the mantra ‘show, don’t tell’. Play on intrigue and ambiguity by revealing the information exists, but not what it is: “here’s how...” or “these are…”.
A range of balanced sources
Another characteristic of ethical content is a fair and considered argument.
Pay attention to any biases that could consciously or unconsciously influence your angle, considering the implications and impact of each possible interpretation.
When making statements or expressing viewpoints, always try to back these up with factual evidence - this is most commonly done by linking to a secondary resource.
Scope out a wide range of resources before jumping to your conclusions, applying the same microscope to the potential bias of your sources as those of your own work.
Best-practice content marketing is all about providing your readers with value.
Ethical content is built on authentic value above all else. To create your own ethical content, ensure a balanced, considered and well-researched angle, and prioritise this balance over everything else - even your commercial goals.
Ultimately, it’s about placing the customer before the brand. Though this might sound counterproductive with respect to your marketing goals, the truth is customers are far more likely to respond to your upfront approach than a self-serving sales push. They may even come to recognise you as a leader within your field.
This positive reflection will lead to greater customer retention, better community building and a more positive brand reputation overall.
When it all comes down to it, ethical content is all about doing the right thing for your customers. Struggling to strike the right balance of ethics and intrigue in your content? For content that always has the very best of intentions, leave it to the professionals. Get in touch with Paragraft today to find out more.