Transparency is the starting point — credibility is the finish line

This is a guest post from Mitch Joel — President, Twist Image and author of “Six Pixels of Separation.” His new book “CTRL ALT DEL” comes out in May 2013. See the original post this is adapted from and more like it on his blog.

What does it take to create a winning digital marketing initiative?

There is no doubt that in a world where anyone and everyone is a publisher of content, that the lines are getting a little bit hazy between what is clearly content for the sake of content vs. content for the sake of linkbaiting vs. content for the sake of advertising. In a printed world it is always easy to spot the ads from the content and, even when the publishing industry introduced advertorials in the sixties, the mass public was fairly quick to catch on. That advertising ploy is still used in both magazines and newspapers all over the world. We are even beginning to see them happen in the online channels.

Whatever it takes to get your message through all of the clutter is fine, as long as you disclose and are transparent about what your intent is.

That is, simply, not the case. All cannot be forgiven by just waving your hand over a piece of advertising posed as real content and saying, “paid,” “sponsored,” or “advertising” on it. It’s great to know that what your consumers are seeing is actually a piece of one-sided advertising versus a piece of content, but to really win in the digital channels, something more needs to happen.

You need to be credible.

Clearly, being transparent and disclosing any potential conflicts are still valid (even if they seem like draconian rules from traditional journalism — that was sarcasm), but the brands that are having the really big advances in the digital channels are the one that have credibility. It’s not only that, but every engagement that they create becomes an opportunity for them to continue to build on their credibility, and they do nothing that will affect it or even give the perception that their credibility should be put into question.

Transparency is easy. Credibility is hard.

If your brand is new, building your credibility will be one of the most challenging, but rewarding activities of your business building strategy. Embrace the idea that this won’t happen overnight. Get comfortable with the notion that you will have several missteps that will feel like you hit the big, bad, long snake in the game Snakes & Ladders that slithers you back to square one.

There are a few simple ways you can build your credibility. Be smart, be consistent, and be aware that this is going to take a long time. There is nothing more powerful than being known as a credible source. Your clients feel it and so does your staff. Real credibility moves people to talk, spread your ideas and gets them (and others) excited to be around your brand.

Here’s the opportunity:

Few brands are really embracing the notion of creating a foundation based on credibility in these digital channels. Most of them are looking for quick fixes. They’re willing to splatter the Web with banner ads or buy third-party email lists. They’re willing to allow their brands to appear in questionable spaces and will randomly add everyone and anyone on Facebook or Twitter. These are the same brands that rushed into the virtual world Second Life with the sole purpose of pushing their message everywhere like they do in the real world. If you can build your brand by starting off with a foundation of transparency, and then think about what you can do to create those real interactions between real human beings — understanding that this is a long road — you are well on your way.

Credibility is everything.


About Mitch Joel

Mitch Joel is President of Mirum — an award-winning Digital Marketing and Communications agency. He is also a blogger, podcaster, journalist, speaker, and the author of "Six Pixels of Separation" and "CTRL ALT Delete." Mitch is frequently called upon to be a subject matter expert for BusinessWeek, Fast Company, Marketing Magazine, Profit, Strategy, Money, The Globe & Mail, and many other media outlets.

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  1. Sonia

    I would love to hear Mitch offer examples of transparency vs. credibility. Media Reform offers interesting conversations about PR vs. public service, especially in regards to socially and environmentally conscious businesses (the “higher standard”). It’s a fine line that at times is a moving target? Creating a worthy story out of a product is a challenge. Can anyone offer a success story?

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