By Adam Barber published October 21, 2011

4 Tips for Managing Content Marketing Mishaps

When it comes to content production, you never have to wait too long for the next high-profile gaffe to occur. One that grabbed my attention recently was when the Daily Mail website published the wrong story after the Amanda Knox appeal verdict.

It’s very common in the news business for journalists to prepare different versions of a story to cover opposing outcomes. That’s great when it helps you scoop the competition; it’s not so great when you post the wrong version.

So with all kinds of organizations — from small businesses and large corporations to governments and non-profits — getting into the publishing business these days means  publishing errors are bound to happen. But they don’t have to detract from your reputation as a trustworthy content producer. Here are four tips for managing mistakes when and if they occur in your content marketing campaigns.

1. Be prepared to lose control

Whether it’s a company blog, guest posting on a third-party site, or a social media campaign, content marketing is often a two-way conversation. You need to accept that you won’t be able to control the messaging at the same level as traditional marketing channels. The idea is to get some engagement from your target audience, meaning other people will pick up and run with your messaging. As a content marketer, you are participating in a conversation not controlling a one-way dialogue.

The Daily Mail’s website, Mail Online, is one of the world’s most popular news sites, second only to the New York Times in monthly unique visitors. It has 30,000 Twitter followers and great levels of reader engagement.

The flip side of all this attention and buy-in is that when you make a mistake people notice. Not only do they notice but they tweet about it and take screenshots for their blogs. While that’s embarrassing, I’m sure Mail Online wouldn’t trade places with an anonymous news site where errors pass under the radar.

2. Don’t ignore your mistakes

Just as you shouldn’t ignore constructive comments on your company blog or questions posted on your Facebook wall, it’s important to respond promptly when mistakes occur. Mail Online reportedly had taken their rogue Knox story down within minutes. That’s quick, but not quite quick enough when you have 28 million unique visitors a month.

A prompt reaction when someone points out an error shows you value engagement from your audience. Your readers are more likely to comment on and share your content if they know you’re listening and see the results when they bother to get involved. This is not only great for growing affinity with your brand, but it will also generate ideas for new articles or campaigns. Marketers are always looking for insights into what their customers want, which means corrections and negative comments are not necessarily a bad thing.

In some cases though, you’ll need to take an article down at least temporarily. If there’s any hint of a legal problem with something you’ve written or commissioned, then it’s a good idea to remove it immediately while you investigate.

If your readers have pointed out a typo, then a quick correction and a private “thank you” will usually do the trick. If they’ve taken issue with something you’ve written (but aren’t threatening to sue you), I’d recommend getting a debate going. Replying publicly in your blog’s comment stream or via social media will do your reputation no harm and will encourage more readers to actively participate. You might also find that your reach improves as your readers point members of their own social circles to the discussions they’ve joined.

3. Know the law

Media law, particularly libel and copyright infringement, is often regarded as something for only newspapers and magazines to worry about. In the digital age, publishing is more accessible than ever, but even bloggers are not immune from its legal responsibilities. Content marketers need to know what they’re doing to avoid falling afoul of the law.

If you publish something that isn’t true or you use material that you don’t have the right to use, even if it’s a genuine mistake, you risk getting yourself into legal hot water. That applies to your blog or your Twitter profile just as it applies to global news brands like Mail Online and the New York Times.

To protect yourself, you’ll want to make sure that whoever is responsible for producing your content knows the law, and you’ll also want to be clear about exactly where the liability resides. One of the big risks of publishing content is not necessarily that you’ll end up in court, but that you’ll mishandle a complaint. How you deal with legal issues is crucially important both for swotting away spurious claims and for limiting the damage when you’re in the wrong.

Always start by removing the article from the public domain. In a lot of cases, that will be the end of the matter, but if it gets escalated, prompt removal will be a mitigating factor in your favor. You should always thoroughly investigate any legal issues, and if someone makes a complaint, you should aim to get as much information as possible without admitting any liability or apologizing. In the right circumstances, retractions, corrections, and apologies can all help you find an amicable resolution, but you should only go down this road when you have all the facts, otherwise you could make matters a lot worse.

Libel, copyright, and other aspects of media law vary across different jurisdictions. If you’re blogging in the U.S., then you might want to check out the State Department’s Media Law Handbook and Media Law Resource Centre’s Media Law FAQs. For any Australian readers, I’d recommend Mark Pearson’s The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law, which has some great plain English examples of the major bear traps.

4. Play to your strengths

Mail Online has great brand loyalty, an excellent understanding of its target market, and a full-scale news operation at its disposal. It’s well set up, therefore, to function as a breaking news service.

While you might want your blog or publication to fulfill this need in your particular niche, the risk with this approach is that you might experience your own “Knox moment” in your rush to be first on the scene with the story. An alternative approach is to make your blog focus more on providing relevant context and insightful analysis on an existing news story rather than on breaking the news yourself.

In most cases, a company blog, an industry newsfeed, or content for your social media will not be your core business but rather a part of your SEO, branding and marketing efforts. With that in mind, useful, relevant  and unique usually beats first to publish. It’s also more in line with what your audience expects from you. If, for example, you’re an IT company and you’re keen to push the benefits of cloud computing, you might produce a blog or regular news articles on your site covering new developments, industry comments or product announcements.

You’d probably struggle to beat the major tech blogs to breaking stories, and visitors to your site probably wouldn’t expect that from you. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t add some real value by producing fresh, relevant, news-driven content. Without the newsroom time pressure, your articles can be a little more considered with reaction quotes, new angles, and additional background. You can also make the link for your readers to show how a particular news event highlights the value of (in the case of this example) cloud computing.

When a potential customer or other stakeholder looks at your social media or visits your website, they’ll see articles that help to identify your brand with relevant themes. Even if you’re not talking about yourself or your products, this association will help build your authority, engage your audience, and grow your digital footprint.

How have you managed content marketing mishaps? Please share your experiences with us in the comments section below.

Author: Adam Barber

Adam is a director at Castleford Media, a custom news and content agency based in Sydney, Australia. Castleford is a leading provider of tailored content marketing solutions, supporting our client's web, social media and email campaigns with unique, white label content and expert consultancy. You can follow Castleford on Twitter @castlefordmedia or connect with Adam on Google+.

Other posts by Adam Barber

  • http://twitter.com/Mywritingworld Fran Aslam

    Hi Adam:

    Great content post written in a charming style.  Liked reading every word of it.  Keep up the good work
    Fran A   http://bit.ly/pHRvqc

  • http://www.globalcopywriting.com/ globalcopywrite

    Hi Adam,

    Thank you for an excellent post. I often speak to corporations paralysed with fear about something going wrong in social media. You’ve given good guidelines about how to handle it and why, in fact, a little drama might be a good thing. 

  • Ahava

    Great article Adam!  So important to know how quickly to think and what to do in a crisis. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://twitter.com/webber_karen Karen Webber

    Great article, Adam. I think the most shocking thing about the Daily Mail/Amanda Knox issue was the fact that the rogue story contained made-up quotes, events and responses from those involved. When it comes to content marketing gaffes, there is a lot you can do to make yourself look better afterwards, but what has happened here has seriously dented the Daily Mail’s credibility as a source. 

  • http://www.showyourexpertise.com Carl Friesen

    It’s a long tradition among longer-lead-time print media such as magazines to send “proofs” of articles to contributors after editing, to check for errors. The magazines I work with do this frequently — they’ll e-mail me the edited text of an article I’ve sent them, and I’ll forward it to the client for whom I’ve ghosted the article. In the electronic world such as third-party websites, this works as well — they’ll send a link to the text just before they post it, and this allows a chance to review it before it goes live.  I suggest that if the deadline isn’t tight, and you’ve sent text to a third-party content platform, that you request that they provide you with a proof in some form. They want their site to be accurate, and provided you get back to them quickly, they’ll see your request as helpful rather than interfering.