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In an article earlier this year for the Content Marketing Institute, digital marketing guru Sujan Patel makes a compelling case for earning the “trust factor” in content. I strongly agree that this is an overlooked value – if your target audience doesn’t consider your content as particularly credible, they’ll stop reading it. And we can’t assume trust as a given. In fact, more than two of every five Americans find brands and companies less truthful today than 20 years ago, according to research from McCann’s Truth Central.
Patel suggested the following steps to gain an audience’s trust: Don’t mislead. Tell personal stories. Respond to reader comments in a way that shows you’re listening to them. Get a respected authority to share your articles, and even contribute to them.
As Vice President of Content for our high-tech PR firm, I’ve worked hard over the years to earn the faith of our clients’ target audiences in writing blogs, industry press bylines, case studies and white papers. Toward that end, here are three best practices that have helped accomplish this.
Don’t push the hard sell. Yes, all brand content essentially “sells” something. But there are “hard” and “soft” sell techniques that you can put in play here, and I opt for the latter. During many of my article collaborations with IT industry clients, I’ve encouraged them to resist specific references to their products. The fastest way to lose your audience, I’ll say, is to make them think they’re reading an advertisement. Typically, business leaders, IT purchase decision-makers and other invested readers will click on a content link because they’re seeking information to solve their problems. In addition to entertaining them and telling stories, 84 percent of today’s audience expects content to provide solutions to them, i.e., educate them and solve their problems, according to research from Havas Group. Given this, it’s best to save the “sell” for the very end of a piece – and “speak softly” when you do it. (Allow links to promote products and services, for example.)
Exude authority. I once saw a funny quote that I will paraphrase here, from a recent college graduate who was asked what he wanted to do for a living. “I’d like to be a Thought Leader,” he said. “But I haven’t found any entry-level jobs for that.” No one, of course, wakes up and becomes a Thought Leader. You can, however, convey immediate authority in your content by doing the extra legwork which demonstrates your commitment to the topic. In my case, this typically refers to research. Bore a client content conversation, for instance, I’ll spend a great deal of time delving into the subject at hand, coming up with articles and reports to build a depth of knowledge. Then, I’ll weave these information resources within the article – especially strong, on-point survey findings. (Re. the reporting of survey findings and other research: It’s key to provide clear attribution for what you’re quoting and/or a direct link to the primary source-posted research page, so there is no ambiguity about where it came from. Vague attributions such as “according to industry research …” usually will not suffice.)
Don’t “talk down” to your audience. You’ll lose readers very quickly if they feel they’re being treated condescendingly. So lose the snark. Again, your audience is seeking to solve problems. That’s why I prefer to adopt the tone of a favorite teacher from high school or college – engaging, informative, with clearly illustrated examples and just a touch of gentle humor.
At W2 Communications, we’re constantly examining new ways to create the best possible client content. We don’t resort to “hard sells,” “cheap tricks” or other reader turn-offs, and that greatly helps in our efforts to gain trust. If this sounds like something you’d like to know more about, then please contact us.