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Can You Trust Anything Mashable Says

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In this edition of The Baer Facts, I talk with Kyle Lacy of ExactTarget about Mashable’s new Brand Lift program, whereby brands can work with Mashable or its agency partners, DigitasLBI and Vaynermedia, to create content assets that will appear on Mashable directly.

Strategically, this is a very interesting move by Mashable, as it continues to position the site as a content repository – not unlike Reddit – and one where companies can publish theoretically innovative presumably meme-filled content to the digerati who lap up everything Mashable as if contained the cure to cancer.

But is this REALLY what we want? Providers of news and information seamlessly aggregating and distributing advertising as if it actually WAS news? With this new program, can you actually trust or believe a single word on Mashable as being objective and/or factual? 

I get it that every company is an ersatz media company today. Hell, I just wrote a book that helps people think it through more strategically. But do we really need information providers who actually ARE media companies to totally facilitate the blending of news and promotion, just to make a buck?

As a marketer, I love this idea.

As a citizen, it scares me to death.


Facebook Comments


  1. says

    I’m with you, Jay. As a marketer, I love it. As a citizen, it does scare me to death. As much as marketers will continue to do anything and everything they can to get increasingly advertising-blind consumers to respond to marketing, passing on advertising as un-biased editorial is a slippery slope. And while it would seem simply marking content as advertising would solve everything, that, too, is a slippery slope. How prominently should something be marked? What should the wording be? (Some wording I’ve seen in incredibly nebulous) Will the reader see it? My own content advertising unit on Adrants (which, by the way, has been in play for over ten years, long before this whole native advertising thing became popular) carries the line “The above is a paid advertisement or Adrants promotion” but it’s in small type. Does the reader always see it? Do they know what it means? In essence, this thing is one big experiment. And like most experiments, it will net a result that is palatable to all but perfect for none.

    • says

      Thanks so much Steve. Terrific perspective. Even Google paid search ads, right? I used to do a lot of user testing stuff, and less sophisticated users almost never knew the links at the top and right hand side were ads. It’s a quandary.

  2. says

    It seems to me that Mashable still has a lot of room (and a great need) for improvement in its role as a “provider of news and information.” Most days, they seem to post stories on anything and everything that smells vaguely of digital media. Their reporting standards could be much higher, and their filter for newsworthiness could be much more refined, it seems to me. If they start publishing content they have been paid to publish, they ipso facto lose credibility as a journalistic source.

  3. Dave Link says

    As someone who came into the content marketing and social world via a career and degree in journalism I’m split on the matter. The purest in me laments the fact that there seems to be less and less ‘pure’ editorial and journalistic content available to the general public. The marketer in me likes the idea of having a somewhat reputable brand like Mashable essentially at my beck and call for the right price to promote my product.

    As others have mentioned, so long as there is some sort of clear delineation between sponsored and non-sponsored content it at least gives the reader a chance to determine what to accept as fact versus promotion.

      • Dave Link says

        Sadly, not many will. You can see clear evidence of that in how stories published in The Onion and other parody publications are taken as gospel. At some point there is an onus on the reader to dig a bit deeper – or at least read the disclaimer published with the feature.

        • Kerrie Luginbill says

          I am right there with you Dave and Jay. I came into the Social Media Marketing industry with a Journalism degree and I have found myself split on many similar scenarios. I feel that it’s a public issue in that people believe what they read without digging into sources and recognizing true credibility. Is it the sources problem that the reader doesn’t care to seek out credibility? From a personal Journalism and ethics standpoint, I hate intertwining editorial with paid ads that mirror articles, but I agree if they do their due diligence and delineate the two then it is up to the reader to also do their part in identifying credible news and separating that from ads.

          The unfortunate thing is that people need to get paid, and ads bring the revenue, whether then public cares to inform themselves or not of true Journalistic credibility.

  4. says

    FYI, Slate, a site that prides itself on its independent journalism, now mixes paid content into its RSS news feed. I clicked right through without knowing it was paid and it really hurt Slate’s credibility, I think. Even at the level of RSS metadata there should be something marking it as not regular editorial content, otherwise, readers are simply being misled, period.

    • says

      Hurts to see that from Slate, but at the same time journalism has to be paid for somehow, and running a ton of banner ads isn’t doing it.

  5. Karen Wilson says

    If it was a more reputable news outlet, I’d be more concerned by it. I quit reading Mashable as a source for news a long time ago. It’s a fluffzine. Quantity is the name of the game there. Quality doesn’t seem to matter nearly as much. If the idea starts looking attractive to the outlets I trust, that’s a different story. Maybe the FTC was on to something when they released the disclosure guidelines.

  6. Neicole Crepeau says

    Mashable is just the latest instance of this. It’s notable mainly because they are such a big name. But I’ve been pitched this multiple times by other “news” sites.

    Practices like this by publishers and marketers just continue to poison the well. Luckily, consumers are smart enough that they often smell the stink. Heck, even my middle schoolers have told me of gaming bloggers that they pass up because they can tell the blogger is getting paid to promote the games.

    I think the good news is that it does provide another, bigger platform for marketers. And those that follow your Youtility advice will produce good content that people still find valuable and useful, and they’ll have a bigger audience for it via a publisher like Mashable. At least until the publisher prints so much crap that they lose their subscribers.

    • says

      Great comment Neicole. Do you think brands would be better off creating content assets and deploying them on their own sites, instead of repositories like Mashable, et al?

      • Neicole Crepeau says

        Well, the problem is exposure, right? Unless and until your own site gets a large enough audience, you can’t match the exposure you get through these “news” sites.

        Personally, I think if you’ve got great, well-designed and useful content, then you can put it on these sites and get good results. Once a user clicks to your article, it’s all about whether your content does its job.

        I think the question is, if a site’s reputation is on the decline, will you be tainted or painted with the same brush if you publish there? I’m not sure about that one. What do you think?

  7. Catrina Boettner says

    I used to read Mashable daily. Up until they decided that nearly everything was newsworthy enough to put on their site. Scrolling through this morning I see anything from “What if Shakespeare Wrote “Star Wars”?” to “12 Photos That Capture What It Means to be yourself.”

    I mean, its just silly. I.DON’T.CARE. I’m a content and social media marketer. Do I care about Shakespeare and Star Wars? Nope.

    They’ve become so concerned with making money that they’ve lost their reason for being. It’s sad and unfortunate and I hope that one day they get a good dose of reality to put them in their place.

    It’s about time someone said something. I don’t care for Mashable any more. It holds no value.

  8. says

    This reminds me of the mainstream news media taking on more editorial reporting than pure news reporting as a standard. Part of me thinks that everyone does this on purpose now to drive revenue – damn the standards.

    Like everyone else has already suggested, I think proper disclosure is what is most important aspect. I however write things like Mashable off as new sources when this happens and put them on my ‘Interests’ twitter list.

    What I hate about this prevailing style the most is not knowing who to trust anymore for legitimate news and facts. Google favors brands, but I favor small biz…

    • says

      On the traditional side, it’s also a lot cheaper to do editorial. Glen Beck or whomever opining is much less expensive to produce than actual news gathering and front line reporting.

  9. says

    @jasonbaer:disqus, great article! I agree with your points about how this is great for marketers, but bad for the average reader. Unfortunately, this seems to be a growing trend. Mashable, Huffington Post, even CNN are all trying to become content repositories.

    To the unassuming reader, who laps up everything they post as being authentic and original, there needs to be more transparency to readers. Possibly a badge or an identifier that it is paid content?

    • says

      Definitely a best practice, and even indicating it’s paid content at the meta data level, as was mentioned on Twitter a moment ago.

  10. says

    This is just another way brands are training consumers to not trust and ultimately ignore them. If we move more rapidly in this direction, content will be the most quickly killed golden goose in the history of marketing.

  11. Marilyn Kay says

    Newspapers have used paid advertorial copy for years, but they make it clear that it is produced by a third party as ad content. Content repositories aren’t the same. They are just a mishmash of entertaining content that may or may not bring new insights in a credible and objective way. Mashable’s move may provide lessons to marketers on what catches people’s attention, but it’s hard news and commentary are diluted by the fluff.

    • says

      Indeed, but I question whether anyone cares. Will even ONE person stop reading Mashable now that they’ve pushed the goal posts even further? Do we really treasure objectivity that much? On the whole, I think no.

      • Marilyn Kay says

        Hmm. I still think it comes down to what you say, “hype v help”. Hype is fun, but it can get boring and feel so ephemeral. I think that’s why people are moving more to Google+. Sure there’s promotion, but not the same way as, say Facebook. Still what did Gary Vaynerchuk say at an event I attended? “The marketers will ruin social.” I hope not.

  12. Chris Greco says

    Part statement/part question here — on a certain level, is this really that different than what PR agencies have been doing for brands? I get that Mashable is changing the dynamics and mechanics, and I share your praise/concern for the move. But PR agencies pitch stories for brand, and some of these agencies have undo influence over the editorial, and that influences the objectivity of what ultimately gets published. So IMO (and again, testing a theory here), this degrading/line blurring has been happening for a while…perhaps Mashable’s move is a tipping point.

    • says

      I tend to think of PR as serving a necessary (although perhaps not objective) curation role for the media, but I see the parallel you’re drawing. Haven’t thought about it like that. I’ll ponder. thanks for the good comment!

  13. Tom Spalding says

    Advertorials do a disservice to the company that creates them. I even groan when I see an advertisement in a magazine that copies the font and design look of the editorial content of the mag. I want separation. Don’t give me separation, I look elsewhere for my news.

  14. Jan Willis says

    You hit the nail on the head Jay. It’s all about the page views. But let’s not get too carried away here. This is Mashable we’re talking about, not the Washington Post. Does anyone really expect serious editorial or genuinely newsworthy content from them any more? Entertaining and highly sharable content I grant you but they certainly wouldn’t be my first port of call if I were looking for heavyweight (or even medium weight) commentary.

    At the end of the day this all boils down to transparency. If they try to pull the wool over their readers’ eyes they will pay the price in the long run. So far as I’m concerned, they can make their bed and they can lie in it. In the meantime, smart marketers would be advised to get in there quickly while Mashable still has a readership base worth exploiting.

  15. says

    It seems like this is exactly the scenario the FTC was targeting when they updated the .com Disclosures guidance earlier this year. The only question is whether the guidelines will be enforced…

  16. Michael Shook says

    Unless you look for it yourself and find what you want using primary sources, I think the internet is curated. I don’t necessarily believe its a giant conspiracy, but there is simply way too much data for an individual to sort through to construct information.

    Once you mash, you edit, and when you edit you are voting and encouraging others to vote like you do. Honestly, I don’t see this as any different than anything they’ve ever done in essence.

    In actuality, I am sure someone will think of some interesting new marketing speak word for this, advertorial is just too old school IMO. Besides which, once the FCC relaxed the injunction about no ads in the news segments, authentic mainstream journalism was dead anyway. And that’s been a really long time.

      • Michael Shook says

        I’m sorry Jay, I didn’t really mean to be depressing. I have a tendency to run on at the mouse sometimes.

        I really think that it’s important for us to evaluate what we read or hear or see in the media, and I think sometimes it’s difficult to do that, when the yardstick you need to evaluate ideas by is produced by the same people who are creating the thoughts you need to evaluate.

        I think the real ideas are there, it just takes a bit of doing to find them.

  17. Ben Shute says

    Having come from an advertising background, the concept of what Mashable is doing is nothing new, and can often work well, but only if controlled by the publisher. There are still too many brands / clients / agencies that don’t understand the change in tone and style that is required to not make this a jarring experience for users.

    Which makes the self service interface the most concerning part of it. There needs to be a gate keeper, some sort of quality control around the content to make sure that it doesn’t become a dumping ground for advertisers who’ve been left to police themselves.

    It also needs to be called out that the content someone is reading is partner content and not necessarily endorsed by the publisher. Good content will still push through the “I’m being sold to” barrier.

    • says

      Outstanding point Ben. Thank you for sharing it. Indeed, the ability to create content willy nilly and drop it into Mashable is both a tasty opportunity and a scary lack of curation and control. Self-serve Twitter ads is one thing. Self-serve advertorial is another – at least to me.

    • says

      Is this the “glass houses” argument? No question we have sponsors here at C&C. But it is obvious who they are, and when I create content that references sponsors or clients, I disclose it ( usually using – in which I am an investor). Further, as much as we’ve built a nice blog here, the impact of Convince & Convert is hardly the impact of Mashable.

  18. Michael Tracy says

    If the advertorial ‘universe’ continues to expand, SMART viewers will
    put even more trust/faith into peer (family & friend)
    recommendations/content. So the net result will be earned media for a
    business mainly being satisfied by their customers.

    Advertorials can be a blessing for Participation Marketing and any technologies/platforms that play in the space.

    • says

      Excellent point that I hadn’t fully considered. Indeed, is all of this pushing us even more toward reliance on WOM and each other? Fascinating to ponder, and would be a good follow-up post.

  19. Alexis Wrightson says

    To be honest it is better than a pop up. If you are engaged with an advertiser you will read and learn about what they have to say. You have control of what you click on and if that means skipping the content about a bend what is new?! The articles are clearly advertising as they usually have some form of advertising next to them and a social feed. In this case I give you an option – pop up, more MPUs or in stream content? You decide…

  20. says

    I think what Mashable’s really good at is working out how to get traffic to content. They’re a mature business that needs to milk the cow. What does it mean for ‘old school’ publishers like Mashable who have an established brand, when Upworthy can come out of the gate barely a year ago and virtually reinvent the rules on how to build a media company? In a space where things can move that fast, I think the ‘brand’ is the least of Mashable’s assets (and they’re acting like they feel the same way).

    Any legacy credibility the brand still has is probably less important than the highly monetizable fact that they can use their knowledge to help connect brands with audiences. They understand the levers; when everyone’s hungry to get eyeballs to content, they’ve got a great asset.

    At least there will be some consistency by using writers/creatives on their side to develop the content in keeping with Mashable’s style, as opposed to models like Forbes where advertisers can copy-paste blatant self-promotional gumpf and it runs like an article.

    Sure it’s ugly for those of us who are in the industry and can observe the dynamics at play; but is it really any uglier than how ‘news’ has always been manufactured? The vast majority of people have have no interest in understanding the reality of how media works. They really do believe that Richard Gere is mean to gerbils. They won’t know the difference between paid or unpaid content, and to your point Jay, I don’t think they’ll care either.

    • says

      I haven’t fully checked the archives, but I’m almost positive this is the best comment ever on this site that name checks Richard Gere. Many thanks, my friend! You nailed it with the “brand is the least of their assets” angle.

  21. says

    @jaybaer, for Mashable, I really think it is about pageviews, regardless of the content. They have joined the 24-hour news cycle of methodology and try to pump as much content into the stream as possible. In your article, you likened them to Reddit, the main difference is Reddit hails itself as an aggregator; Mashable is trying to be “objective” news. You can’t be both.
    They lost credibility quite awhile ago with me as a trusted news source. They are good for the latest roundup of trending memes and antics.

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