Forget ‘fake news’, watch out for ‘fake media’

Money spent on pay-to-print is as worthless as the info it contains, writes Media Stable managing director Nic Hayes.

We’ve all heard the term Fake News, but I’d like to introduce you to a new term: Fake Media.

More and more business owners are paying for articles about themselves to be published on sites from reputable media brands like Forbes and Yahoo, or straight-out fake news media like the Australian Business Journal. The business owners then take this media and share it with their network celebrating or highlighting the media engagement as earned media and as proof they are expert in their space. What they fail to mention is that they paid for the article to be published.

I am a big supporter of paid advertising and advertorial in media – it is important for both the media houses and the brands looking to communicate with an audience. Advertorial has an important function in media. I am also a believer in earned media – media coverage that is won because you have expertise and knowledge in your field and the media wants it. Earned media is not paid for.

When you are paying for media coverage and pretending that it is earned media, I take issue with this.

People who are paying to appear on Forbes and then pretending it is earned media are deceiving the very audience they are trying to build trust with and have a relationship with. Many experts might be engaging this type of media by mistake, so this is an opportunity to understand the world of advertorial versus fake media.

Fake Media and advertorial are both bought. But with fake media, you as an expert might be approached by a writer who poses as a content producer, rather than a journalist. With fake media, the media brands are in some cases not related to the brands they purport to represent, and often the articles are merely puff pieces with little to no news or educational value. The articles often can’t be found online, other than in a screenshot on social media that the purchaser has posted. Sometimes the media names are close to the real thing but not quite. The Australian Business Journal sounds like a real news site but like the London Daily Post, is just another aggregator fake media site. You might think forbesbusinessinsider.com is kosher, but it’s also a bogus site.

On the other hand, advertorial is paid for but the outlet will work with you to produce it, or ask you to write the piece yourself. They will have editorial guidelines that advertorials adhere to, and it will always be declared as ‘sponsored’, ‘paid for’ or ‘advertorial’ content on the page where you content appears.

Many fake media articles are listicles: The top ten real estate agents, financial advisors, marketers, entrepreneurs to watch. There will usually be no consistency with the photography, as it will be submitted by the buyer. The article might appear on an overseas site, which has no link to the subject’s business or expertise. Often the articles are poorly written and contain grammar and spelling mistakes.

One Australian businessperson appeared recently in a Forbes article which talked about summer holidays ending and kids heading back to school. The article was clearly for a US audience and yet it “featured” an Australian case study. You would think that anyone that reads such an article might ask “Hey what’s going on here?”. The Instagram post had hundreds of likes and comments, so perhaps the purchaser felt that was good return on their investment.

To me, the real culprit here is any purchaser of an article who knowingly claims it as earned media on their platforms. It is on the same level as purchasing Twitter or Instagram followers to deceive people into thinking you are more influential than what you really are. The irony is that many of the people who have paid for their articles would do very well in real media, with just a little direction, advice and good old-fashioned effort.

Nic Hayes is the managing director of Media Stable.


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