Hate Speech Digital PR Marketing

Why are you still celebrating links from outlets that encourage hate?

By Olivia Wiltshire, Head of digital PR



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February 28, 2022 | 6 min read

Digital PR is extremely fast-paced, with experts having to pay close attention to what’s going on in the media to stand a chance of landing coverage or links. Even then the chances of cutting through the noise are never guaranteed. Olivia Wiltshire, head of digital PR at Builtvisible, investigates.

Builtvisible on the importance of which publications marketers affiliate themselves with

Builtvisible on the importance of being more selective of which publications marketers should affiliate themselves with / Andre Hunter via Unsplash

Digital PR is difficult. That’s why we continue to see industry peers share when their campaign is covered by toxic publications.

I understand why people shout about these wins, having put their all into the campaign and its outreach, but there are three core issues we need to address.

1. It’s morally repugnant

If you’re shouting about a link from a disreputable publication, it seems like you’re endorsing platforms that have come under fire for exacerbating hate culture. In turn, yourself, the digital PR industry by association, and the brands you’re representing, will be seen as fueling damaging narratives.

2. It’s celebrating the wrong thing

As Beth Nunnington said, relevancy is far more important than quantity and even quality. A link from a publication that’s broadly spread is unlikely to attract an audience that’s truly interested in what a brand, in being linked to in an article, has to offer. That publication’s audience won’t be going on a meaningful onward journey to view the brand’s product range on its website, and ultimately convert.

3. It creates a toxic industry atmosphere

By shouting about all these links from morally dubious outlets, it contributes to the thinking that others who aren’t shouting about their wins – probably because the publication is less ‘sexy’ – aren’t doing enough. We’ve created a toxic echo chamber that’s demotivating to people trying to do the right thing for their clients, as well as the wider public.

As those in digital PR, what can we do to improve the situation?

I’ve highlighted in the ’Are you paying for links with your principles?’ blog post how we can do better. There you’ll find more detail on exactly how Builtvisible is trying to do better too.

  1. We can educate our clients about what sites will drive real value to their bottom line, and bolster this messaging with case studies and tangible results

  2. We can limit contributions to stories that could be perceived to encourage negativity, hate or abuse

  3. We can ensure all work pushed out upholds integrity to avoid fake stories being shared around the press, and potentially discrediting a brand, individual or body

  4. We can avoid working with third parties that violate the above

  5. We can be human when it comes to our actions with other people

We’re not even able to be kind to our industry counterparts

That last point is particularly pertinent in light of a spreadsheet that recently floated online for a few days, listing agencies alongside alleged red flags and unsurprisingly causing an enormous stir. Whether it was based on legitimate feedback or not, its existence proves the unkindness that is prevalent between industry rivals. Having glanced over it, I saw words such as ‘toxic,’ ‘amoral’ and ‘black hat’ come up repeatedly when linked with digital PR, which suggests that as an industry we need to take a long hard look at our approach to our work.

Google agrees, given that the sheet was taken down promptly for violating its terms on not spreading abuse that could harm others or ourselves – especially through the dissemination of misleading, defrauding, illegally impersonating, defaming, bullying, harassing, or stalking information or behavior.

How Builtvisible is trying to do better

Several years ago, we took steps to create our own ‘Be Kind’ policy. It acted as a moral code to actively avoid targeting publications that we feel are beyond the pale.

It's unfortunately not as simple as that when you consider that many publications are owned by a few select corporations. The issue becomes very complex, and I’m by no means saying we’ve sussed it yet. But we’re working toward a better place, and we advise that you do too.

If we all took similar approaches and continued to bang the drum about the importance of relevance, I strongly feel that as an industry collective we could drive positive change.

We’d be able to place a credit on the publications that are not only relevant and of value to our clients, but also morally on the right side. Surely a win-win for all, and something we’d all feel good about?

Why aren’t you speaking up?

Upon the publication of this blog post, many digital PRs (from veterans to newbies) confided in me about how they personally grapple with having to work with certain publications as part of their daily digital PR strategy. But alarmingly, people don’t feel comfortable talking about this in the open – which begs the question as to why. Things need to change, which is why we’re running this anonymous survey to collect opinions. I’d love to understand what’s holding everyone back from speaking out about this.

If you want to help your clients, cut the chat about links from hate rags, and instead encourage shout-outs with links from relevant publications that actually drive search engine optimization (SEO) performance and meaningful referral traffic. If we see more of this, I’m convinced the industry would transform into a much healthier place.

Hate Speech Digital PR Marketing

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