Trust in traditional media organizations continues to decline, as does engagement with news content. That trend could play into the hands of brands looking to capture audience attention with their own content initiatives and publications, and could accelerate an “unblurring” of the lines between brand content and “traditional” media.
The overall decline in trust in traditional media has been marked by a few recent datapoints:
- The United States now has one of the highest rates of “news avoidance” in the entire world: the Reuters Institute found that four in 10 Americans say they sometimes or often avoid contact with the news.
- Gallup’s latest survey, out last week, found that Americans’ trust in news has plummeted a record low, with the greatest declines reported among conservatives.
- Edelman’s Trust Barometer research earlier this year found that people’s trust in major institutions continues to decline, including their trust in media.
- Engagement with news consumption plummeted in both 2021 and the year so far, following historic highs in 2020, with cable viewerships, news app sessions, website visits to news websites and overall engagement on social media with news articles all down.
Lowering trust of the media and the accompanied decline in engagement presents a new reality for brands, who for years employed sleight-of-hand tricks to make their content look and feel as close to traditional media offerings as possible. But as trust in media is decreasing and people are engaging with traditional media less, this blurring of the lines is increasingly unnecessary, and brands are now in a place where they no longer have to disguise their content as “media” in an effort to sneak it in front of readers. Instead, they may be better off being as transparent as possible about their business imperatives and how their content fits into them.
Trust has become the currency for anyone in the business of creating content. The lack of trust in news media has been one of the clearest symptoms of societal polarization. Most troublingly, standards have fallen across all content produced on the Internet – many standby best practices such as fact-checking and corrections have declined.
In many ways, brands are better positioned to create content on a slew of topics than traditional media organizations are. They have deep benches of expertise in their staff, and usually, deeper pockets and more resources than news organizations do that can enable them to hire the right people and create the right infrastructure to produce high-quality content.
To be clear, brands also face challenges when building content arms. They have to develop new skills and core competencies, ensure the content is both valuable and engaging and also aligns with wider business goals. Brands that hope to create valuable content that both educates audiences and helps their businesses must have higher standards for their content, with clear editorial missions and a high bar for quality. Instead of relying on cheap tricks such as clickbait headlines and thin-value content marketing, they must rethink their attitudes to content to favor quality in favor of quantity and build communities that truly engage audiences. Credibility is a powerful asset during a time of declining trust – and building credibility in content is a long game. Even the best-architected content and editorial publications take time and patience to build audience loyalty.
As we’ve noted previously, the best-case scenario moving forward will be an unblurring of the lines, where traditional media organizations can refocus on their core competencies of breaking news and journalism, and brands can fund content that is relevant to their businesses.
Along with the loss of trust in news media, two other key trends are contributing to more openings for brand-funded content. One, audiences are much more educated about the very concept of brand publishing than they were in the past. As more brands have begun creating content consistently, content marketing and brand publishing have become much more common. People know that companies create content as an extension of their marketing so they can educate consumers on matters important to their business. They’re generally less suspicious of it as a result
It’s something many content leaders at top brands are noticing. “People used to suspect brands of having nefarious ulterior motives. And now, they rather suspect the media of that. Especially when somebody has had a good experience with the brand, they’re going to bring that trust to the content,” said Julie Ross Godar, editorial director at fintech firm Carta. Godar went on to note that this also means more pressure: There are expectations of a firm like hers to produce truly deep, detailed content about complicated topics in a way others can’t.
Secondly, there are more options out there. Consumers now have access to a slew of choices to engage with outside of “traditional” media. Plenty of people get their information from social media, or through personal newsletters. As people become more comfortable accessing information from a variety of sources, brands may stand to benefit.