Running a parody story could harm your trust

Injecting humor from time to time in your content marketing strategy is a good way to keep yourself relatable to your readers. However, as TechCrunch recently learned, be careful that you don’t push your humor–and your trustworthiness–over the edge by publishing a parody story misinterpreted as reality.

Poytner reports:

TechCrunch published a piece by Ryan Lawler Sunday saying Uber would buy a fleet of driverless cars from Google. The piece carries the dateline July 25, 2023, but several outlets still reported the “news” as fact — in part, perhaps, because TechCrunch isn’t usually a parody site.

I was fooled, along with many others. Earlier this week, I read the TechCrunch story on my iPhone using an RSS reader–which doesn’t display the dateline for articles. The story was very intriguing and believable. We all know Google has been perfecting their driverless cars. Uber is starting to make a dent in the taxi business–especially in San Franscisco. All the pieces fit together.

TechCrunch is normally a trustworthy news source. I read it in my RSS reader alongside other sources that are trustworthy. Fake stories aren’t to be expected unless it’s April Fools Day. Perhaps Techcrunch should learn from the Onion on how to run fake parody stories. As commenter jfruh  points out, normally the Onion would “create a fictional CNN spokesperson.” Instead, TechCrunch runs the story from a real author from TechCrunch. Readers have the expectation for truth from this source. If you run a fake story, you have to put  hints in there to clue the reader onto the parody.

Once TechCrunch was outed by the Washington Post, we’d hope that TechCrunch would handle the situation well by acknowledging their parody and most importantly assuring readers that they won’t run any more fake stories. However, Poytner continues:

Reached by email, Lawler said CNN called him over the weekend to ask about the report, and he told the network it wasn’t true. “I didn’t write it to pull anyone’s leg, honestly,” he writes. “I thought I was pretty well couched with the hed and dateline, but people are dense, I guess.”

Lesson learned: Don’t call your readers “dense” as a defense. At the least, you might lose some subscribers. At the worst, you’ll lose their trust. Parody stories can be a fun way to inject some lightheartedness into your content marketing, but absolutely make sure you reassure your readers that the story is indeed parody. Keep your readers trust and you’ll keep them subscribed.

If you really want to run a parody story ask yourself a few things:

1. Is it really worth running the story?
Posting a quick-hit humor story might get you some short-term publicity, but it might also create… cause some long-term harm… it might also your trust is harder to gain back.

2. Reassure your readers the story is indeed a parody
Being funny is a good way to connect with your readers. Humor shows you are real. Laughter binds us together and increases happiness and intimacy. However, if your humor is full of lies, then you immediately lose that connection with your readers. Mark Twain once said, “The human race has one really effective weapon – laughter.” Just make sure that this weapon isn’t turned against you.

3. Prepare for the feedback
Even though in your mind, it’s clear that your story is a parody, make sure to run it by others outside your company first. Get their honest reactions. Prepare a backup plan for how to react if people misread your parody. Preparations like, being transparent and clear, and posting an apology. However, if you have to prepare an apology ahead of time, then perhaps you need to move onto point four.

4. Ask yourself again if it’s worth running
Keep strong connection with your readers is your primary goal. Does running a parody increase that connection or potentially decrease the connection with your readers? We all aren’t the Onion. Every day is not April fools. Stay true to your strengths.

Have you ever run a parody on your site? If so, how was it received by your readers?

Other title ideas (these could also be used as tweets):

  • 4 things to ask yourself before running a parody story
  • The dangers of running a parody
  • How to avoid the dangers of running a parody
  • Should you run a parody story

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