How Credder, the Rotten Tomatoes for news, addresses credibility in the digital space

By Jim James, Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur. 

When journalism moved online, it was kind of forced to chase clicks to satisfy advertising partners because that is the underlying revenue model. This is the problem that Credder is trying to solve. 

Credder Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and co-founder Chase Palmieri and his team are on a mission to move the news industry from clicks to credibility. And they do so by building an open review platform for news where both journalists and the public can share their reviews.

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Even before the term “fake news” became popular, they had already started their work. Personally, they’re not huge fans of the term because it’s not a helpful label in their opinion — anything can be called “fake news.” However, they acknowledge that the popularisation of the term (especially during the 2016 US elections) has helped build awareness of what the company is working on. 

The Rotten Tomatoes for News

The simplest way to think about Credder is to think of it as the Rotten Tomatoes for news. 

When you think of Rotten Tomatoes, you know that there’s a critic score and an audience score. The same thing applies to Credder. They have journalists reviewing under one category and the public under another.

Image from Credder

You might also notice that when you buy a movie on iTunes or certain streaming platforms, you can see the Rotten Tomatoes score next to the content. This kind of licensing deal is how Credder wants to make their money, according to Chase. 

Later this year, they’re planning to begin licensing Credder scores for individual articles, authors, and outlets to third-party platforms including social media, search engines, web browsers, news aggregators, and programmatic advertisers — those who are trying to address content credibility on their platforms without having to make several editorial decisions.

Communicating With Different Stakeholders

When it comes to their communications, Chase shared that they have to be something different to a lot of different people. 

To attract journalists to review on their platform, they need a different set of value propositions (e.g., bringing additional traffic to your side, building up your Twitter followers because your Twitter handle will be featured next to your reviews). These different types of value propositions are geared towards them; there’s a different set aimed towards the regular reviewers.

Additionally, Credders’ different customers to whom they’re going to license to — for example, social media and search  — are using ratings in varied ways. And even with two search engines, they might also be using ratings differently. Therefore, there’s this need to change their language, copy, stated value propositions, and brand promises based on who they’re selling to.

In the process, what Chase found to be helpful is to create different one-page brochures. They’ve created a one-page brochure for their ratings licensing strategy for social media, plus a separate one for news aggregators. 

Because their enterprise application programming interface (API) can give different platforms access to their ratings, they need to express why it’s a good fit for every particular type of platform.

On Their Corporate Identity

For Chase, it’s a challenge to address their corporate identity when they’ve got so many servants and masters at the same time. He said that, in fact, they’re making missteps.

For instance, when I mentioned their gold cheese logo, he revealed that they’re actually currently addressing what they think is a branding misstep in Credder’s early days. When they went with the cheese, they got a lot of people who would stop reading their name as Credder and start seeing it as cheddar instead. 

Now, they’re correcting it and they’re going towards the more traditional way of showing good, not-so-good, and bad rating icons. They consider it important because if they’re going to display their rating icons and scores on third-party platforms, they have to be simple for their readership; their branding must not overpower the readers’ newsfeeds or search engines. Taking these into account, they’re now aiming for a much simpler iconography.

Screengrab from Credder

In the beginning, Chase said that they were being “cute” for a while with the use of the gold cheese icon. After all, what they wanted is to differentiate themselves in the media rating space. They did not want to use those simple green, yellow, and red check marks or shields. What they’re eyeing is to create a timeless, loveable brand like what Rotten Tomatoes has done in the movie rating space, wherein they appear to not take themselves too seriously. 

However, it has become a problem for them because now, it looks as though they’re not taking themselves too seriously. And yet, they’re trying to sell to third-party platforms. 

They’ve figured this concern out with months of getting feedback from their passionate community of Credder reviewers. The reviewers were rather very upfront with them, saying that they should stick with the logo; that people said the same thing about Rotten Tomatoes in their early years and now, they’ve become an iconic brand because they kind of broke the norm. 

In the end, Chase thought that it became too big of an uphill battle for them to fight. Especially when they’re also fighting many other uphill battles, they’ve decided that it’s better to retreat on their initial goals there.

When asked about how he thought Rotten Tomatoes got across that divide of keeping that branding and iconography, he shared that the folks over there also have no idea how it was able to work. It’s like how Craigslist is able to get away with their outdated user interface. For Chase, it’s just that these early internet companies were providing a lot of value that they became the go-to spot for that. People, the consumers, just kind of learned how to deal with it and even love it.

Chase was able to tell that because Rotten Tomatoes’ founder and former CEO Patrick Lee is actually their first advisor at Credder; he helped them raise their angel round of investments. And it’s another reason they consider themselves as the Rotten Tomatoes for news.

Solving Credder’s Distribution Challenge

Everybody should know that building a product doesn’t necessarily mean that people will come and buy it. According to Chase, you have to have both sides of the issue worked out: You need to have a great product and you also need to have a product-focused approach to your distribution.

Luckily, Credder found a successful approach without spending, and that is through their search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy. Every single article, author, and outlet on Credder has a public rating page (similar to what IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes have). They’ve optimised all those different pages for Google search results. Because of that, they’ve managed to achieve 13.7% month-over-month growth last year — all of which came from unpaid search traffic.

Image from Credder

However, he pointed out that this might not work forever. If there are more media rating sites to emerge with more public rating pages, it’s going to be more competitive. But as Credder is currently the only site that offers ratings for articles, authors, and outlets next to search results, they have a click-through advantage. If a star rating is found next to a search result, it becomes more attention-grabbing and clickable. 

With their SEO strategy, which Chase considers an absolute flywheel, they get people to click on the pages. Then, a certain percentage of them leave their reviews. They index those reviews onto the rating pages to make them even stronger for Google to index in their search results. And this virtuous cycle continues.

Apart from their SEO strategy, they’re also implementing a new feature wherein each time you leave a review, you can share that review on Twitter. Credder makes sure that every time you write a review, you can call out that journalist or outlet directly on Twitter. This is made possible by their database of the Twitter handles of journalists who are on their platform.

Image from Credder

In my SPEAK|PR program, this falls under the amplification model.

On Upsetting Journalists 

In the podcast, Chase shared that Credder will definitely upset some folks in journalism — like how Yelp upsets some restaurant owners and Rotten Tomatoes upsets some movie and production studios.

Their team doesn’t expect to make friends with everyone. What they’re trying to do is to create that level playing field where even a small, independent outlet can get good traffic if they have created a great piece of work (e.g., investigative reporting). They don’t have to be on a level like The New York Times to capture that traffic-based attention.

In terms of mitigating the risks of gamifying ratings or reviews, Credder has a lot of internal measures. First off, they have a specific review process. It’s not a simple one- to five-star rating; you have to label a specific reason for your review and add an explanation about it. 

Image from Credder

This then gets upvoted by the rest of the community as helpful or not helpful. This, in turn, creates the reviewer rating, allowing Credder reviewers to also be held accountable and have their own scores appear next to them. It’s similar to how the Apple Support Communities works: You can give ratings for people who are giving the support, which has become an amazing kind of social validation.

Chase considers these measures as a built-in immunity system that they have to keep improving. At the very least, it already allows for the best review on any piece of content to bubble up to the top of the page.

Investments on Credder

Credder has raised a total of $495,000 worth of investment to date. Currently, they’re in the middle of a pre-seed round where they aim to raise up to $600,000. 

Chase regards themselves lucky for having Rotten Tomatoes’ Patrick as their first advisor. Patrick was able to make key introductions to some heavy-hitting Silicon Valley angels, allowing Credder to raise their angel round. They’ve also met certain milestones and product rollouts, which led to their bridge round.

For their company, it’s also been a matter of convincing the investor community that there’s a need for the solution that they’re offering; that the problem is getting bigger and, sooner or later, social media platforms, search engines, web browsers, and news aggregators are going to need to address that problem. This issue is already kind of playing out given the increasing pressure from users, the media — and now, regulators — to address content credibility issues.

There are other content credibility solutions out there, but Credder convinces investors that the one that will have the most staying power, most brand loyalty, and most adoptions by the said third-party platforms in the future, will be the one that can create decentralised reputation — not just mere media ratings as decided by some small, select insider groups. 

Credder argues that there’s a need to create Yelp and Rotten Tomatoes for news consumers, and that a brand like that could actually have an important seat in the media landscape.

Media Relations For Credder 

Chase has a background as a media watchdog for Project Censored, which is a non-profit partisan watchdog founded in 1976 in Sonoma County in California. He also continues his basic radio and podcasting skills through The Credder Podcast.

The podcast has been, for him, an interesting way of bringing in journalists and featuring great pieces of reporting that they did. Through this outlet, he also gets to invite key decision-makers of certain platforms (e.g., social media or web browser) to talk about how they’re addressing content credibility issues. 

Screengrab from Spotify

At Credder, folks are very open and easy to get in touch with. They’re also trying to have conversations with different stakeholders and assure them that they’re not here to pick on anyone; that they and the stakeholders need to agree that there’s a problem: Trust on online media is at a record low. The US, which is Credder’s main market, has the highest rate of distrust of online media out of any country in the world. About only 29% of Americans say that they trust what they’re seeing on online media.

The problem is big and it is hurting and will continue to hurt publishers’ bottom line. Through Credder, they can access a communication tool that will, at least, allow them to understand how and why they’re gaining or losing a reader’s trust.

Talking about adjacent marketing and partnering with other industry associations, Chase said that what they prefer doing is working directly with publishers through their Partner Program. Through this partnership, the Credder review process can be placed at the bottom of the articles on the publishers’ own websites. 

This offers publishers a great way to capture feedback and scores from their most loyal readership. It’s also a way of telling that they, as publishers, are willing to be held accountable; that they want feedback at a time when a lot of people are getting rid of comments sections and moving in the direction of not understanding why they’re gaining or losing trust.

Besides partnering with publishers, Cheddar is also working closely with social media platforms and social engines. 

Also, instead of venturing into convention circuits, they use The Credder Podcast to target specific high-profile names in the industry (for instance, they’ve already featured Craig Newmark and Jay Rosen as their guests). They’re diving into an hour-long discussion also as a way of introducing themselves.

Raising Brand Awareness

How does Credder get consumers to look at their logo the same way that consumers do on logos like Rotten Tomatoes and Trustpilot?

According to Chase, addressing this is the focus of their rebranding. Before somebody reads an article, they want people to check the Credder rating first, or check if the article has even been rated on the platform. They want readers to ask themselves the same way that somebody checks Rotten Tomatoes or Yelp ratings before watching a movie or dining in a restaurant. 

This long-term challenge comes with a lot more brand awareness and SEO. But if they’re going to achieve that status, it will be helpful for news consumers to save a lot of time. 

Image from Unsplash

The challenge, however, is that with movies, consumers have around a two-hour commitment. Therefore, they will have more incentive to check a score. If it’s about restaurants, there’s about an hour-and-a-half to two-hour commitment, plus the cost of paying for the meals and the risk of a bad taste. For that, there’s a little bit more reason to check a rating first. 

When it comes to news, there are 20 to 30-minute articles about great investigative reporting that people don’t just read anymore because they’re afraid to commit to a long article and end up with just a piece of clickbait, press release, or false advertising. The challenge for Credder is to show readers that seeing what others say about a particular article will help reduce the risk of diving into bad long-form content. It’s about rebuilding the very concept of editorial integrity into the media.

Editorial integrity is an important part of what is being done in the public relations world. And if you’re going to read something in the future, look out for that little golden piece of cheese because it will give you the credibility rating of a particular article. 

To find out more about Credder, visit their website at www.credder.com. If you’re interested in exploring their enterprise API and licensing model, visit www.enterprise.credder.com. You can also check out The Credder Podcast, available in video on YouTube and in audio on Apple Podcasts and Spotify Podcasts. For updates, follow Chase Pamieri and Credder on Twitter.

This article is based on a transcript from my podcast The UnNoticed Entrepreneur, you can listen here.

 

Cover image by visuals on Unsplash.