When most people hear the term investigative #journalism, they think of Woodward and Bernstein, and the fall of the Nixon presidency. While the Watergate scandal of the 1970’s may be the most notable example of the form, our current era, in many ways, could be considered the heyday of investigative journalism. Print publications like the Times and The New Yorker have continued their tradition of muckraking, but the Internet has provided a platform for more people than ever to delve into the art. Notable examples that come to mind include Wikileaks and Edward Snowden, dedicated investigative sites like Pro Publica, or even gossip blogs like Gawker. Or take a look at the non-fiction best-seller list, which is dominated by incredible first-person accounts by writers like Katherine Boo and David Grann. It’s reasonable to argue that there’s more high-impact investigative journalism being done now than ever before.
What does this all have to do with #content marketing? Well, in addition to its current prevalence, investigative journalism has a long history, and those decades have provided ample lessons and mistakes that content marketers would do well to heed, avoid, and in select cases, emulate. At its core, the mission of investigate journalism is to reveal the previously unseen, to surprise the audience, and hopefully, spur them into action. Want someone to buy your product? You must give them something in return. Content marketers might not be taking down presidencies or exposing secret governmental programs, but they can provide a valuable service to buyers by offering up groundbreaking information.
It’s all in the reveal
Your goal as a marketer should be the same as that of the journalist—to reveal what has been suppressed. This could mean showing how cloud solutions promote cost and work flow efficiencies, or how the Internet of Everything is changing industries. The point is to find an uncommon angle on new information and bring it to the world.
Disrupt the status quo
After World War II, reporters like Edward R. Murrow transformed investigative journalism into a public service. The media became watchdogs, always on the look out to correct commonly accepted lies or push back against figures like McCarthy or Nixon. Content marketers do not have to be quite as combative to produce the same effect. Disruption may be the most overused term of the moment, but it’s a good way for marketers to think about IT narratives—what content can you produce that shakes up the standard view of technology? Look to changes on the horizon and highlight how they will transform business.
Give to get
Ultimately, people like investigative journalism because it gives them something they did not have before, whether that’s access to information or a new perspective on a timely issue. That should also be the goal of content marketing. Marketing becomes soggy when it’s too promotional. Knowledgeable readers are willing to accept that you’re selling them something, however, if you’re also providing them with something they wouldn’t otherwise have: like interviews with leading CIOs about their struggles, or chronic, industry-wide issues with #big data usage. Offer up stories no one else can get.
Bring in outside voices
We all love the image of the hooded figure secretly sharing classified information with a reporter. But in essence, source-based investigative journalism gathers expert testimony from an array of insiders. Content marketers can do the same, using interviews (whether attributed or not) with experts to help discover the biggest challenges faced by those in IT. And as a side benefit, these stories can also help inform product development.
Data has secrets too
Not all investigative journalism requires years of interviews with anonymous sources in dimly lit garages. Contemporary journalists are riding the big data wave just as much as tech entrepreneurs. Nate Silver, of fivethirtyeight.com, is perhaps the most notable example of this phenomenon. He has built a strong brand out of delving deeper into commonly used datasets than anyone else and then building stories out of the numbers. Content marketers should do the same. This can be especially effective in identifying and understanding the pain points encountered by those in the industry: if 50 percent of CTOs are experiencing the same problem, that’s a problem begging for a solution, and one that will catch the attention of a lot of people.
Avoid destructive partisanship
We now consider investigative journalism as a form of public service, but it wasn’t always that way. In the heyday of Yellow Journalism, journalism was all about uncovering secrets to destroy your enemies and opposing political parties. Obviously, Fox News and MSNBC represent some of this tradition today, but they don’t have the militancy of a William Randolph Hearst. And there’s a reason for this: people may want information that supports their side, but they want it to be accurate. Bias can quickly be exposed via social media and represents a lack of authenticity. For content marketers, the lesson here is clear: you can bring new information to the fore without having to stomp your competitors in the process. You build trust when you don’t exaggerate your claims and appear as an honest broker.
Become and unstoppable technology truth-teller with the right content marketing collateral.
Also read our other posts about the link between journalism and content marketing: