Sharing Earned Media Isn’t New, but Buying Promotion Is

If, like me, you have experience running a curated content marketing program you know that bringing in stories from outside news sources isn’t anything new. In addition (hopefully) to the content pulled from an owned, on-domain source such as a pressroom or blog, the curated program includes earned media stories from industry or general news sites. These kinds of stories can range from product reviews to corporate announcements to interviews with executives or staff to any of a number of other categories. All have their place in a well-run social content program.

There’s a new trend where not only are these stories being used for organic social posts but for paid posts on Facebook. That’s a trend Bobbie Johnson is creeped out by.

The main problem with allowing a company to pay to promote media coverage is that it has the potential to set up an environment that can further compromise the trust the public has in media by influencing editorial decisions and directions.

As media companies continue to see advertising revenue to the duopoly of Google and Facebook, they are buying ads themselves on those channels to boost their own stories, likely spending more to buy the reach that’s been siphoned from them over the years. They’re looking for any port in a storm that shows no sign of abating.

If they see stories performing well and find the cause is Company X used a link to that story in an ad because it was favorable in some manner (a good review, positive coverage of recent news etc), it’s hard to imagine someone within the organization won’t say they need more like that. Keep giving companies positive coverage and I’ll have the sales team contact each company pointing it out and hinting that it would make a great one to promote on Facebook.

I don’t want to impugn the integrity of most members of the media. But these are desperate times. News organizations are either pivoting to video (where the ad dollars are theoretically richer), increasing the amount of data they collect and sell to advertisers or hoping a shift to subscriptions saves them. It’s naive to think someone hasn’t at least proposed being more friendly and welcoming to corporate messaging in the hopes that subsequent paid posts linking to that coverage will increase pageviews.

There’s no real solution here. No one will ban these ads on the grounds they violate some sort of intellectual journalism standard. So it will be up to the commentators and watchdogs of the industry to keep an eye out and see if or how coverage shifts to better facilitate a system where someone else promotes stories, someone with an even greater financial interest in doing so than the news provider itself.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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