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Keep Fake News Out of Content Marketing: How a Bogus Source Can Damage Your Brand

By Sara Donnelly. Craft of Writing
Image Credit: Frederick Burr Opper. Licensed under Public Domain

Here's how to evaluate a source to find out if it builds your credibility and authority, or drives a truck through it.

Content lives and dies on the quality of its sources. Great sources—respected, astute, and reliable—can enhance your brand’s authority and boost its stature by association. But bad sourcing—from untrustworthy websites, impossible to find original documents, or just unsubstantiated blogosphere fluff—can dilute your authority and make your brand seem like it doesn’t know what it’s talking about, or even that it’s outright lying.

Here’s how to verify your sources are good for your brand.

Fact-check like an ace (reporter, that is)

Just like a reputable news media outlet, make sure you confirm your information before you publish your content. This can be a time-intensive process, but it’s critical to creating content that makes a difference and stands out from the fluff.

After all, once you share something, you’re responsible for it. So make sure what you’re sharing is informative, real, and fact-based. That can be tough when there’s so much content out there—blogs linking to blogs linking to blogs, and off we are down the rabbit hole. Now we also have fake news sites to contend with, which sometimes look so legit the real news gets fooled. What’s a content marketer to do?

Most businesses don’t have enough content to warrant a full-time professional fact-checker on the payroll. No problem—The Washington Post came up with a quick guide to parse out the real from the fake news, including:

  • Examine the URL: Does it end in something other than “.com”? Does it have strange words or gibberish? Or appear to be from a country that you know the media outlet is not based in?

  • Check the contacts page: Does the address seem authentic?

  • Scrutinize the sources, ads, and the article itself: Does it seem fair, fact-based, clean of grammatical or spelling errors? Are the ads and sources reputable? Are there backlinks to reputable sites?

Pulitzer-Prize-winning website Politifact has these tips on verifying all kinds of information, including by:

  • Digging deeper into Google by doing multiple searches

  • Confirming with the source directly

  • Seeking out experts with different perspectives

Look out for CRAP

There’s nothing worse than backlinking to a site that turns out to have a debilitating bias, a shady relationship with the truth, or some other embarrassing characteristic. But how do you know if your internet resource is on the up and up?

Academics have given this a lot of thought. That’s because professors know many of their students will conduct all of their research for papers and projects online. Guidelines universities have developed to help their students choose good web sources are also great resources for content marketers. For instance, before you link, see if your source passes the—ahem—C.R.A.P. test.

Current?

You shouldn’t have to use carbon dating for your source material. If a link is more than three or four years old, keep looking. If you can’t find the same information somewhere else, move on.

Relevant?

Does the information relate to your topic? Is it general or detailed, reliable or biased? Are you adding a link just to add a link?

Authoritative?

Read the fine print and check credentials. Is the great statistic about a new time tracking app achieving 75% fewer employee absences coming from the company selling the app? Or does the article you are linking to reference an industry study based on due diligence?

Point of View?

Why did your source write this content? Do they have an agenda? Is this a first-hand account or a review of someone else’s experience or information? Are they trying to sell something (or themselves)? Does the author have a vested interest in the topic that could compromise their authority?

Rely on journalistic integrity

When choosing a content agency, look for a team that has writers with journalistic experience—they know how to find the truth, conduct research, and verify what they hear. In the content world, brand journalists are writers who can dive deeply into your business, bring to light the essence of what you do, and effectively distill and communicate your message to the public. Your content, and your brand, will benefit from working with a team with well-honed research and fact-checking skills.

For more tips on mastering the craft of content marketing, download our new ebook, The Art of the Voice.

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Sara Donnelly

Sara brings more than 15 years of experience as a writer, reporter, and editor to Eucalypt. She specializes in long-form narrative, in-depth reporting, and crawling inside complex topics so that she can write about them in clear, engaging prose. At Eucalypt, she writes copy of all shapes and sizes as the resident word nerd.

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