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Forget “fake news”, watch out for “fake media”


We all know the term fake news, but I would like to introduce you to a new term: fake media.

More and more business owners are paying to have articles about themselves published on websites of respected media brands like Forbes and Yahoo, or in fake news outlets like the Australian Business Journal. The business owners then take this media and share it with their network to celebrate or highlight media engagement as earned media and as evidence that they are experts in their field. What they don’t mention is that they paid to have the article published.

I’m a big advocate of paid advertising and advertorial in media – it’s important for both the media houses and the brands that want to communicate with an audience. The advertorial has an important function in the media. I also believe in earned media – media coverage that is won because you have expertise and knowledge in your field and the media wants it to be. Media earned is not paid.

If you pay for media coverage and pretend it’s earned media, I’m against it.


People who pay to appear on Forbes and then pretend it’s earned media are fooling the very same audience they want to build trust with and a relationship with. Many experts may inadvertently deal with this type of media, so this is an opportunity to understand the world of advertorials and fake media.

Fake media and advertorial are both bought. But with fake media, you could be approached as an expert by a writer posing as a content producer rather than a journalist. With counterfeit media, in some cases, the media brands are unrelated to the brands they purport to represent, and often the items are just puff pieces with little to no news or educational value. The items are often not found online except in a screenshot on social media that the buyer posted. Sometimes the media names are close to the real thing, but not entirely. The Australian Business Journal sounds like a real news site, but like the London Daily Post, it’s just another fake aggregator media site. You might think forbesbusinessinsider.com is kosher, but it’s also a fake site.

On the other hand, the advertorial is paid for, but the outlet will work with you to produce it or ask you to write the piece yourself. You have editorial guidelines that advertorials adhere to and are always marked as “sponsored”, “paid” or “advertorial” content on the page on which your content appears.

Many fake media articles are Listicles: The Top Ten Real Estate Agents, Financial Advisers, Marketers, Entrepreneurs To Watch For. There will usually be no match with the photograph as it is submitted by the buyer. The article may appear on a foreign website that is unrelated to the business or expertise of the subject. Often the articles are poorly written and contain grammatical and spelling errors.

An Australian businessman recently appeared in a Forbes article about the end of the summer vacation and the return of the children to school. The article was clearly intended for a US audience and yet it “described” an Australian case study. You’d think that anyone reading an article like this would be wondering, “Hey, what’s going on here?” The Instagram post had hundreds of likes and comments so maybe the buyer felt this was a good return.

For me, the real culprit here is any item buyer who knowingly claims it is earned media on their platforms. It’s on the same level as buying Twitter or Instagram followers to fool people into believing you are more influential than you really are. The irony is that a lot of the people who paid for their articles would do very well in real media, with just a little guidance, advice, and good old-fashioned effort.

Nic Hayes is the managing director of Media Stable.


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