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No one likes to have their work criticised and as a business or professionals, we want to maintain positive reputations. I’ve always been a particularly sensitive person by nature. However, the rise of online reviews has made it more complex to control our reputations. Dealing with a negative review has become an important component of any public relations or marketing strategy.

Recently, I met with a highly experienced medical specialist. She is renowned in her field, intelligent with a very kind, nurturing mannerism which no doubt serves her well as a doctor. She had received positive reviews online but there was one which was particularly negative.

“I can almost pinpoint the patient and why it happened,” she told me. “They wanted a treatment which I just didn’t think was indicated and upsetting for them to hear.”

The patient wrote a review criticising this doctor for being rude and not listening to their needs. The review was unsettling for the doctor, even though she had tried to put it in perspective. I have given keynotes to doctors on medical marketing and social media. Dealing with negative reviews dominates discussion afterward.

A friend of mine, who owns a successful food eatery was asking my advice too recently on a long walk. In their many years of operation, they hadn’t received a negative review so a harsh one about coffee being cold and their food menu hit hard. My friend was upset and said it had given her an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach.

She had her suspicions the anonymous review came from someone connected to another eatery, which had opened nearby. Whatever the reason, a mistake, miscommunication, even unfair attacks by a competitor, at some stage you’ll get a negative review. However, how you handle that review will be a sign of your character as a brand or professional and further affect your reputation.

‘The Economy of Trust’ & power of online reviews

We’re living in an age and marketplace fuelled by reputation and trust. Rachel Botsman, an academic and writer focusing on how technology is changing the way we work and consume, uses the term “Economy of Trust”.

In a now famous TED Talk, Rachel speaks about the shift of trust from corporations or governments to people. This new era of trust, which Rachel terms reputation capital is transforming how we do business. At the centre of this Economy of Trust is online reviews.

BrightLocal, a reporting platform for SEO professionals needing local SEO data, shows just how powerful online reviews are in their recent study on the subject.

Key findings include:
• 85 per cent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
• Positive reviews make 73 per cent of consumers trust a local business more.
• 49 per cent of consumers need at least a four-star rating before they choose to use a business.
• Responding to reviews is more important than ever, with 30 per cent naming this as key when judging local businesses.
• 79 per cent of consumers have read a fake review in the last year, but 84 per cent can’t always spot them.
• Yelp and Facebook are the most trusted review sites, followed by Google & BBB.org
• Consumers read an average of seven reviews before trusting a business – up from six last year.

The Power of online reviews study reveals a one-star rise on review site Yelp leads a to a 5-9 per cent increase in business revenue but one negative review can cost you up to 30 customers.

No wonder many business owners and professional service providers are particularly nervous about online reviews with such statistics. In this fast-paced digital world, the speed at which information and content can spread including reviews is phenomenal, meaning it’s important to implement a strategy to monitor and respond to reviews.

My policy is to ensure clients have a crisis management plan (see earlier post) in place because at some stage they’ll be involved in a situation that could potentially impact their reputation, operations and financial stability. Managing reviews is part of this plan because people have many avenues to express their grievances and with more intensity than ever before, severely damaging targeted organisations.

However, the impact of negative reviews on reputations can be minimal if handled with professionalism. Indeed, a negative review handled well can even have a positive impact overall on a reputation of a business or professional service provider.

One of the first points I try to make to clients is to try not to panic about negative online reviews, as they are just a part of a digital economy and often all positive reviews about a business are not good anyway.

Typically, users want to see a mix of good and neutral reviews when researching a business or service because all five-star reviews on a site look a little ‘contrived’.

I’ve even seen a business owner respond well to a bad review from a disgruntled client and turn them into the greatest evangelist for their business.

Nine steps to deal with a negative review

1. Stay calm and don’t respond hastily.

You work hard in your business or profession and a negative review will, of course, stir up all sorts of emotions, including anger, frustration and disappointment. However, you should remain calm and avoid these emotions showing up in your response.

Look upon a negative review as an opportunity to further build your reputation. If someone is critical, don’t react with haste or be rude in response. A negative review will hurt but are an inevitable part of doing business. As the old saying goes: ‘You can’t please everyone all the time’. By having a review strategy in place, this will guide you towards a calmer, consistent approach.

A strategy doesn’t mean using the same response to every review as each should respond on its independent merits. However, you will have guidelines and a system in place to follow.

2. Have one senior person investigate & respond.

Online reviews and reputation have become an important component of ‘The Economy of Trust’. It’s therefore, crucial to treat these reviews and responses seriously. To maintain consistency in messaging only the business founder or authorised person should respond to the reviews. I’ve seen the mistake where juniors or marketing people are often in charge of monitoring and managing social media or reviews because the business owner thinks they have more understanding of the technology.

Often, the business owner isn’t even aware of negative reviews or responses issued. While a junior person or marketing people may alert you to a negative review and have good suggestions for a response, it should not be their responsibility to respond without your input.

3. Respond promptly but thoroughly investigate first

If you take too long responding to a negative review, it may look like you’re trying to ignore your unsatisfied client or customer or hoping it will go away. However, while responding promptly demonstrates your responsible and attentive, you should investigate the circumstance of the complaint and not respond with haste.

Work to obtain as many details as possible about what happened leading up to the negative review. When you have gathered as much information as possible about the situation, then write out key points you don’t want to forget to start formulating your response.

Work towards taking an impartial approach to your investigation. People who write a review will honestly feel their complaint has a basis, while your employees will, of course, be defensive. Try to maintain a balanced middle ground in analysing circumstances surround the negative review. It may highlight a problem with your business or service, which you should work on overcoming in the future.

4. Prepare for further attacks.

When you’ve gathered as much information about the negative review as possible, you may feel you have a comprehensive understanding of what happened. However, until you’re able to discuss the complaint with the reviewer, you don’t have the complete story. You must plan for both your online and offline response to the negative review along with any further attacks by them upon your reputation. There are some important points to remember including:

5. Use an empathetic and personable tone.

When writing a response validate the negative reviewer’s feelings and feedback in a way which shows you are genuinely respectful of their experience. Don’t lose control of the conversation. No matter what your opinion is on the situation acknowledge and validate their concerns and don’t get into an argument.

6. Offer to discuss the complaint privately

Avoid arguing on the review site. Have a response on the public platform which includes an offer to discuss the feedback privately, for example, please contact us to organise a time to discuss your concerns.

While in the public domain, responding to a negative online review isn’t all that different from handling other conflicts you may experience in your business or profession. Be prepared and remain authentic to your professional or brand voice.

7. Try to drown out the negative review with positive ones
Encourage clients and customers pleased with your service to provide a review, which can push the negative review further down the feed. NOTE: This doesn’t mean getting your family and friends to write reviews or having fake reviews. Australia, like many countries, has legislation to protect consumers from misleading or fake reviews, see ACCC online review guidelines.

8. Request a site remove a review

Most review sites have a Terms of Service, where they list all things allowed or not allowed on their site. If you believe a review is in violation of a site’s Terms of Service, then you may have grounds for it to be taken down.

9. Seek Legal Advice

If you feel the situation surrounding the negative review is complex and could have further repercussions, then seek further advice. This can be important legally, especially for professions such as health and medicine. If you feel a review is defamatory then consult a lawyer, legal action may also be able to be taken. Unfortunately, I think the international nature of digital media and rapid changes in technology means the law is still lagging to catch up. However, there have been cases of successful legal actions taken in regards to negative reviews which have damaged reputations.

Conclusion

For most people, it can be hard to deal with criticism. It’s important not to blame yourself but at the same time be accountable. Investigate what happened to see if you can prevent such an incident happening in the future. Sometimes, what happened may not have been preventable and perhaps you did everything by the book but still got a negative review. As mentioned you can’t always please everyone and you may not even know who wrote the negative review. If you have mainly positive reviews, then this will read well overall. Develop a mindset where you every negative review becomes an opportunity to improve your processes and practice public relations skills.

However, if there are quite a few negative reviews and especially if there is a common problem then perhaps it’s time to look at your processes. Take control, recognise and accept the problem then work towards improvement. There have been some great success stories of businesses turning around dramatically by learning from negative feedback. Negative reviewers may even remove their reviews and replace them with a positive one.

One of my favourite journalists of all time doesn’t work on a large, metropolitan paper. He was not an award chaser but would get my vote for developing a loyal base of followers for more than half a century. My dad’s best childhood mate Gary (Gus) Underwood was the editor of Kyabram Free Press, in rural Victoria. He inspired me to be a journalist with his witty, opinionated columns and for building up a paper, treasured among the locals and offers some great blogging tips.

In rural communities, local news outlets are deeply valued but sadly these days on the decline. As a journalist, if you write a good story people will buy you a beer in the pub and give you leads on another. On the contrary, if you produce a misleading or offensive story, even one which is grammatically incorrect you will feel their wrath and have to work hard to build up trust again.

Speaking of trust, did you notice errors in the title of this post? Content may be ‘king’, but correct spelling and grammar are still one of the most powerful tools a communicator can use to connect with their audiences. It may not have been wise to include mistakes in the headline, probably already turning off readers.

One of the best quotes I’ve seen on grammar is from US Author and Business Trainer Jeffrey Gitomer. 

Your grammar is a reflection of your image. Good or bad, you have made an impression and like all impressions, you are in total control.’

Building a loyal following through content marketing is much like being a journalist on a country newspaper so while Gus doesn’t have a blog at age 72 he still tells a good story and offers sound advice for blog writing. 

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Firstly, I would like to make it clear I’m from the old school. To be more precise the old, old school.  I got a job as a cadet reporter at Kyabram Free Press in northern Victoria when I was 17-years-old in 1961. Some 55 years later and at the age of 72 I’m still providing articles for the same paper and its parent company, Shepparton Newspapers.

I got my start in journalism because my uncle was a good mate of the then editor of the Kyabram Free Press, Paul Easton. Producing some sporting articles for the paper on outstanding feats of some of my schoolmates while attending Kyabram High School in the 1950s, probably helped in securing the position.

Apart from a hidden passion of always wanting to get into journalism that was about it for me as far as credentials to the do the job were concerned. I’ll also admit I didn’t dare mention in my job interview that I had failed English Grammar in my Intermediate Certificate school year.

Reflecting back on some of my earlier efforts as a cadet journalist, Mr Easton would have got the message very early I wasn’t a super speller. He was very diplomatic whenever this happened. He would tell me people with the ability to write and capture an audience in those writings are not always grammatically savvy or a spelling wizard.  Mr Easton also made a point that would-be journalists who were faultless spellers may have no idea about producing a story to capture an audience. In other words, some good journalists can’t spell and often those who can spell can’t write to inform or entertain. Personally, I interpreted this as Mr Easton seeing some talent in me as a journalist. I have worked hard on building up my word power and spelling over the years.

When I became editor of the Free Press, a position I held for 24 years, there was a lot more pressure to spell correctly and be grammatically correct because the buck stopped with me if errors made it to print.  Anyone in the newspaper game will tell you that you get nasty and uncomplimentary feedback more often when you get it wrong than complimentary if you get it right.

When I first started in this game mistakes which got to print were extremely rare. A professional proofreader,  sub-editor, then the editor would read every bit of copy before it went to the press.

Unfortunately, in today’s digital age with increasing online competition manpower associated with producing many newspapers and publications has been reduced to try and remain economically viable. Many newspapers, particularly the country ‘local rags’ often go to print verbatim without adequate subbing.

Mr Easton also stressed to execute my writings in a manner in readers didn’t need to have a dictionary at the ready to check what some of the words I was employing meant. He said this was a sure way of turning off your readers. He also stressed all articles or stories needed to connect with people from age six to 106.

‘‘You are not writing exclusively for academics but for everyone who can read,” was his sound advice so many years ago.

“People who can understand exactly what you are writing about will continue to read it if it’s interesting enough.”  

 I’m sure his advice still rings true today. 

Recently, I’ve been researching a lot of women business groups on social media. One thing that keeps coming up by members is whether or not to do Facebook or LinkedIn live video.  Lives have become increasingly popular while statistics show the success of video as a marketing tool, further increasing pressure on women to do Facebook Lives.

I have undertaken a couple of Facebook Lives. I’m a trained broadcast journalist but still felt nervous and while I got positive feedback some people thought they should be more relaxed or jovial. I’ve been a journalist for many years so naturally inclined to sound more professional in front of a camera. I became a journalist in the days when elocution lessons were a standard part of our training. Where seeing the rise now of amateur journalism, which in many ways is very exciting as news is reported on the spot by eye-witnesses.

Everyone will have their view on how to do a Live. I’ve seen some overly relaxed Facebook Lives by people. I’ve asked branding and presentation experts what their views are on Facebook Lives. While some love the idea and say as long as you come across authentic that’s great, others advise their clients against Lives and say they can diminish their brand’s value.

For those considering doing live video, I thought these tips from my Facebook course might be useful.

– Journalists should keep in mind that they are professionals and follow ethical and technical guidelines when using Live. (I think this is the same for all service providers).

– Every stream should have a point and offer audiences a unique experience.

– Pay attention to the details: the camera should be stable, the audio should be clear, and you should come across as a professional.

– Interact with audience questions and comments, frequently reminding them to chime into the discussion.

– Explain what you’re doing and offer recaps intermittently.

Remember, don’t feel pressure to do Facebook Lives just because everyone else seems to be doing them or telling you to do them. I have a colleague and friend who has a podcast and is an excellent presenter. She’s even given a TEDx talk. However, she feels uncomfortable doing FB lives. She records webinars her clients can watch back with lots of graphics.

There’s a reason as journalists we have those specialising in print, radio and broadcast. Different personalities suit the various mediums. I’ll no doubt do more live videos, but today I just didn’t feel like it was for me so instead I’ve just written a post and there’s nothing wrong with my no pressure approach.

Child's written out story

At the end of each school year, my children bring home a pile of used exercise books. While in the spirit of being a minimalist, most of these get thrown out. However, their journals or creative story writing books I cherish and love to read. I can tell what they were thinking through their stories. My son Scott wrote a story about a wicked witch named Kate (his sister). At another time, my son Jack wrote a story about a family’s holiday adventure based very much on one of ours.

We are naturally all storytellers but somehow lose faith in our ability to connect with people through story and instead fall into what I term PowerPoint or marketing language. I’ve worked in marketing but now run a program where I use my background in journalism and PR to help women leaders clarify their story and get media exposure for impact. I always say to clients drop your PowerPoint and marketing language, instead start with your story.

We naturally tell stories every day to our friends, in coffee shops, to our family members. We’ll talk about what has been bothering us or something interesting that has happened in our daily lives. A story has a power to connect us as human beings.

Stories also have a power of making the complex clear. My kids and husband are a fan of the scientist Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, who uses storytelling principles such as anecdote, analogy and metaphor to explain complex scientific principles.

He speaks in simple, relatable terms and yet in no way makes his audience feels like he is dumbing science down. Almost every leader has a vision, but the challenge is to relate and connect with people, so your vision resonates with others and comes to life. Think of the great leaders who stick in your mind – they’re usually the ones who humanise their message and deliver it in ways that connect with everyone at some level. Leading author and researcher into shame, courage and vulnerability Brene` Brown is a great example.

Through her stories about herself and others, she is about to turn complex psychological concepts into relatable messages that help and inspire others. Her vision, in turn, becomes clear.

When you’re thinking about your vision and purpose, don’t get caught up in the vanity metrics of marketing such as social media likes, logos and websites. The stories you tell and messaging is what will connect you with your target audience to build trust and grow your business. Reach out to learn how to clarify your story and get exposure for greater impact.

People-do-business-those-they-know-like-&-trust quote

I grew up in a small town and to this day love regional areas. Living or working in a country town can teach you some great business lessons, especially about know,like & trust. My grandfather owned a hardware store and my parents worked in service industries. In a country town, everyone has their role to play from the local policeman, baker, doctor, accountant or teacher.

My grandfather always taught me people do business with people they’ve built a relationship with and trust. His lesson was similar to the mantra ‘know, like and trust’ that has stood the test of time and been preached by many leading sales authors and speakers over the years.

When a new person comes to town, they have to work hard to become known, liked and trusted among the locals. I remember years ago when as a young doctor my husband (then fiance`) was sent to outback Queensland to fill in for the local doctor.

My husband was pretty fresh out of medical school and still had a baby-looking face. Some of his patients would come in and roughly say to him “Where’s the real doctor?” or “You don’t look old enough to be out of kindergarten”. He was feeling awkward and out of place.

I had some holidays from my work and visited to offer him moral support. I worked in the reception area, alongside the regular medical secretary. While I didn’t know about running a medical practice, I was confident in my ability to get my naturally shy fiance` connecting with the locals.

I was able to get everyone talking in the medical waiting room – people connected. We told stories about our background while people told us stories about their lives. We discussed the challenges of living in rural areas, such as the need for better health care or education. We would watch local football games, hang out in the pub, listen to the concerns of locals.

When it came time to leave people knew, liked and trusted my husband and were sad to see him leave. Connecting and building relationships with your target client, whether online or offline is a vital component of a successful business.

Respected business coaches and marketers are now saying stop concentrating on your social media following or complex marketing campaign and concentrate on building a true connection based on trust like my husband had to do in this small town.

I see many women at networking events and online business women’s groups who seem to think that to be successful they must have a huge social media following or elaborate marketing campaigns.

But recently, I’ve noticed leading business coaches have all been writing posts with similar messages. Women are focusing on the wrong elements in building a successful business and struggling in the process.

Their messages are similar that there are thousands of entrepreneurs making high incomes and having an impact, but you may not have heard them.

Their point is that most of the time a large social media following has nothing to do with your success or income. As coach Sonya Stattmann once told me: “I’ve looked under the hood of many businesses with large social media followings and let me tell you it’s not good.”

I’m a journalist now working with women leaders and changemakers to tell their stories and make an impact. However, I don’t choose my clients by their social media following. I have women come to me bragging about their social media following, but this is often superficial.

The women I work with and want to work with are humble and often too busy doing their work to have elaborate campaigns or huge social media followings.

Don’t get me wrong in the early days of my business I also was focusing on elaborate marketing campaigns or gaining a following. I study, research and work in the marketing sphere. However, I have become somewhat disillusioned with the low rates of conversion of mainstream marketing so now think outside the box.

For people like me working with clients on an individual basis, it’s about building a connection and trust rather than putting all of my energy into growing a social media following or elaborate marketing campaigns.

In the early days of social media and internet marketing, it was easier to make an impact. However, there is a lot of white noise online now without great substance. Talented and honest marketers all agree people are falling for the hype that you need followers and elaborate campaigns to get clients.

Marketing is changing rapidly so now needs to be strategised and can be highly valuable when you want to get to another level in your business. In the meantime, start with the basics like connecting with people and finding common ground to grow.

I stuffed up one of my first stories as a young television journalist because I didn’t know my target market. At the time I thought it was a good story, but after it went to air, my news director called me into his office to discuss where I’d gone wrong. Full of ambition and even “cocky” I had plans of being the next news anchor within a few months.

I remember my excitement at buying new jackets to wear on air along with getting a hairstyle to look the part. When I came back down to earth from having my head in the stars and landing a coveted television job, it was with a thump.

My story was about lamb prices going up and was along the angle that this was positive for farmers. My mistake was I ASSUMED and got it wrong that all of our target market would like that lamb prices were going up. However, while I could’ve made mention that the rising price was a win for farmers, the majority of our audience – the mums and dads in middle-class Australia and butchers onselling lamb wouldn’t be as pleased. (I was clearly not a parent with teens to feed at this time.)

The news director told me my story angle should’ve been that Sunday’s roast lamb dinner just got a whole lot more expensive, maybe even unaffordable. As a consequence to understand my audience, I was sent around with an experienced journalist for a few weeks. I went on stories with him, to the pub, coffee shops, local shopping centers, council and community meetings, to watch how he would connect with our target audience.

I was reminded of the lamb story this week while listening to the latest podcast episode by leading coach for women in business Sonya Stattmann. Her episode was on can you bypass the hardship of setting up a business and still have it sustainable. Sonya was talking about how women must validate their offer and get to know their target market before starting fancy marketing campaigns.

Sonya constantly reminds women you may have a service or offer you think your target market wants but until really talking and connecting with them it’s all just assumption. Both Sonya and I have seen many women preoccupied with fancy marketing campaigns, websites, logos and social media followings but failing to get clients. Simply put, they’re focused on vanity metrics and not truly connecting with their target client.

I have pivoted my career this year with the help of Sonya and am now helping women leaders clarify their story and get exposure for impact. However, if you looked at my website you wouldn’t know this is my new focus. Why? Because I’m still validating my offer and while I desperately want to go and make it all pretty and update my story – it’s simply premature.

I still need to connect more and talk with my target market one on one, work with them to get the message right. Business isn’t about you but the people you serve. Do yourself a favour and take time to listen to Sonya’s podcast so you don’t end up writing a lamb story. If you want help with crafting your story or getting to know your audience, then reach out.

I love getting positive feedback or a review from people who have worked with me or enjoyed reading my articles. As human beings, we all like to be praised and validated for our efforts, while it also is a positive endorsement to others who may be considering my services. In turn, I like to sing the praises and give positive reviews for people who have delivered a great product or service to me.

However, I feel strongly about giving fake reviews or testimonials. From a personal perspective, false reviews go against my values. As a PR consultant and journalist working with women entrepreneurs and leaders, false reviews can just do more harm than good.

A recent post on a Facebook group for women in business asked people to give fake reviews of each other’s websites or Facebook page. The post to date has had almost 1.5k comments and most in favour of giving each other false reviews. The popularity of that post has led to similar posts and shout-outs for fake reviews.

I was one of a small number of business women to speak up against false reviews. The reasons I included were:

1. You’re damaging your reputation and potentially causing a public relations crisis for your business if word gets out you’ve been conjuring up reviews.

2. Search engines and social media platforms can penalise you for trying to beat the system. I have studied an written an article on this topic – it forms part of what is known as “black hat tactics”.

3. Made up reviews are dishonest, unethical and a reason why people have less trust in marketing. (Research the many articles on this topic)

4. False reviews go against best practice. You may want reviews but as the old saying goes “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Do the hard work and earn reviews. In the long term, your business will benefit from the trust you’re building.

Leading social media marketing strategist Anna Kochetkova advises you should not provide or ask for false reviews.

“You eventually disregard all the real reviews businesses get, making customers trust less,” she says.

Reviews mean you’ve worked with someone and helped them – they’re incredibly precious.”

Anna says fake reviews can damage your business if any of your prospects find out and contribute towards a complete disintegration of marketing.

“People get upset when Facebook changes the algorithm, but all they’re doing is updating their business model because people abuse the system through dodgy practices like fake reviews,” she says.

“The more people do fake reviews then, the bigger a hole is being dug.”

Business coach Sonya Stattmann, who has been helping women entrepreneurs for almost two decades, says women are focusing on the wrong strategies to build their business.

“You won’t get income from Facebook reviews, especially fake ones,” she says.

“You get income by having your attention on the customer, not yourself or vanity metrics.

“You get income by offering a unique solution to someone else’s problem and by having legitimate and real conversations that turn into sales.”

Book Coach Cathryn Mora has some great tips for engaging and connecting your target audience without the need for fake reviews.

“I’ve had much better results from just being ‘social’ on social media,” Cathryn says.

“Engaging in groups, answering questions, being curious, enjoying talking to people…I no longer use my page and am considering deleting it.

“I have many more clients now that I genuinely engage with people than I ever did when I focused on how many likes my page had, pushed ‘one-way’ content out every day and gave away free resources.

Having hundreds of people like your page as a ‘favour’ hurts more than helps you anyway as Facebook essentially punishes you for low engagement by pushing you further and further down the news feed.”

Some women defending fake reviews in these posts say they’re part of “networking” or “marketing”. However, by definition networking means to interact with others to exchange information and develop professional contacts. Marketing is the action of promoting products or services. Neither should involve being unethical or fraudulent.

Public relations which is my speciality area, although I also have experience in marketing, is maintaining and protecting a person or business’s favourable public image. For this reason, I feel compelled to speak out against fake reviews.

I acknowledge building a successful business is hard. There are other ways though to engage with your target client – be creative, tell stories about your work. I’ve heard some beautiful stories of hope and inspiration from women in business. Tell how you are making your products or benefiting clients? I heard a lovely story from a woman importing jewellery to the US made by women in African villages. By selling their jewellery, she is helping raise these women’s families out of poverty. Another woman is making gorgeous shoes from her garage. Inspire and engage people – fake reviews isn’t the answer.

native-advertising-newspaper

I remember as a young journalist reluctantly having to write up advertorials or what we now more commonly refer to as native advertising. Doors would slam as editors battled with advertising heads, reluctant to take their journalists away from a good story to write a “damn marketing fluff piece” as I remember one editor calling advertorials.

Traditionally, journalists and advertisers have been dubious of one another with a relationship akin to church and state. This uneasy relationship was predominantly due to journalists wanting to remain impartial and separate from paid marketing. Revenue brought in by advertising made it possible to fund journalists, whose work in turn attracted an audience appealing to advertisers. However, News Limited Chief Rupert Murdoch who would describe advertising as “rivers of gold” was conceding more than a decade ago that sometimes rivers dry up, saying he doesn’t know “anybody under the age of 30 who has ever looked at a classified ad”.

As journalist Christopher Warren wrote recently the digital challenge for the mass news media has never been about finding readers. It’s always been about advertising and getting revenue.

Ad blocking is not helping the cause and grew by 41per cent globally in 2015  with about 198 million users using these blockers. Display ads are hugely affected by these blockers.

With the decline of advertising, printed papers and the rise of digital, journalists in major news organisations worldwide have been contemplating their career futures.  Fairfax Media is cutting 25 per cent of its remaining metropolitan journalist staff, equal to 125 full-time jobs,  in an effort to help save $30 million across its Australian newspaper operations. A move which has seen journalists strike across the country.

Advertising dollars are desperately needed to keep mainstream media alive and the model for marketing is changing as consumers turn away from traditional advertising.  Statistics show that by 2021, native display ad revenue in the US will make up 74 per cent of total US display ad revenue, up from a 56 percent share in 2016.

What is native advertising?

So what is native advertising other than a fancy buzzword toted by online marketing gurus.

Well, also known as sponsored content it’s editorial in style and designed to blend in with a publication but paid for a business.  We used to call it advertorials. This increases the readability and reach of the content and requires a well-balanced writing style that gently nudges the reader rather than lambasting them with ads.

Some of the most well-regarded newspapers in the world such as The Washington Post, New York Times and Sydney Morning Herald have adopted this practice, which while controversial to many as it blends so closely with editorial looks like it’s here to stay.

An example may be an informative, educational article on changes to the tax system and how it will affect taxpayers lodging their next return. It will simply have a note saying sponsored by a certain firm.

One of my favourite pieces of native advertising appeared on the New York Times website promoting the Netflix series Orange is the New Black.   At almost 1,500-words, the native ad featured stories, video and charts about female incarceration in the U.S.

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(Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

How native advertising impacts brands and the media?

Online news sites are packing a punch and are now the more popular form of consuming news over traditional television, print and radio news. The traditional advertising dollar is also falling as businesses start to explore other ways of connecting with consumers.

Editorial and news departments may still like to maintain their independence of each other in a way similar to the doctrine of the separation of powers. However, the media landscape has become increasingly complex in a matter of only a few years with vast changes in consumer behaviour along with how news is dispersed and received.

Like it or not native advertising is becoming an imperative part of content marketing strategies and how brands communicate, increasing loyalty and a strong following.