The internet is a powerful instrument of knowledge. Millennials are the final generation to rely solely on printed text to reinforce their point of view.
When learning to order my ideas through writing — eh hem, some years ago — I had to thumb through a card catalog. Like many generations before me, I’d spend hours searching for a weathered book full of possibly-outdated facts on a dusty shelf that provided the precise evidence I needed to be credible.
I learned the importance of properly referencing my resources. And I never doubted the reliability of the information. The passages I quoted were the lectures of scholars.
The information was peer-reviewed. It passed through numerous editorial filters. Dozens of people took pride in the passing of knowledge through those pages.
Then it happened.
The internet made it possible for all of the facts and figures, slowly but surely, to find their way through every modern family’s PC…cue dial-up sound effect.
Then it got faster.
The internet merged with the ether, and suddenly information about anything from anyone became instantly accessible through nearly any mobile device from anywhere.
Then it got sketchy.
The world wide web is a remarkable innovation that sorely lacks the scrutiny and accountability books hold. But it’s no less valuable. The fact is, while your intention might be to use the information you find on the internet to inform or persuade your audience to do the right thing — the best thing — it’s too easy to stray out of context.
Here are a few ways you’re probably using information in your content marketing strategy that you need to double-back and fact check:
Everybody loves a good research report. OK. Maybe not everybody, but you’ve probably pulled stats off the internet to prove your point at least once. Data makes your content appear more credible instantly. And the truth is, statistics carry weight for your readers.
Because your audience is more likely to trust evidence that appears scientific by nature, research is a powerful tool in your content marketing strategy. But with great power comes great responsibility. It’s your responsibility to identify the original source of any statistic you quote.
Don’t just find it. Study it. Understand it.
The fact is, Fox, CNN, Larry from high school physics, even your favorite industry thought leader may have used a stat out of context. Citing a popular media source or sharing facts from viral memes could loop you into the cycle of misinformation. Before stuffing your content with percent signs, you should always investigate the intent of your sources, and be sure your points truly align.
“He said, She said,” is probably the most common misuse of information in content marketing. It’s wildly easy to pull a quote apart and form an entirely new concept.
Major media/news outlets are infamous for drawing readers in with headlines featuring a fragment of what a politician or CEO actually said…or worse, paraphrasing in a grossly manipulated manner. This click-bait tactic is meant to draw attention and set the stage for riled-up readers to spread their agenda rapidly.
It’s critical you follow industry trends and current events to be sure you’re abreast of what impacts your audience on the web. However, you also must have the insight to look beyond common (and questionable) “content marketing” schemes to determine the factuality of quoted information.
Don’t take anything that reinforces your perspective at face value. You should also investigate the points that disprove it. Search for full, official transcripts or live video coverage of interviews. The most reliable source is always direct from the person who said it.
Sharing and resharing across social platforms spreads information faster than any other channel on the internet. In fact, social media marketing generally goes hand-in-hand with a strong content marketing strategy.
You want people to share your posts so you craft clever social shares. And then you build social networking relationships by engaging on and sharing others’ content. The extent of your reach is nearly infinite, and best of all it’s free. But it could also cost you your brand reputation if you’re not keeping your facts straight and your sharing habits in check.
Accountability across social media is two-fold. You need to ensure your social media content accurately reflects the intention of the information followers click into, and you should be sure any external content you share with your followers comes from reliable sources that align with your values and mission.
Sharing memes is a prime example of how you can quickly lose your followers’ trust in your credibility and integrity. When a meme goes viral, it’s easy to lose track of where it originated or who is now associated with it, regardless of its intended message.
Your priority may have been to make your readers laugh, but readers could lose respect for you and your brand if your source has a poor reputation or goes against the grain of what they believe in. Using a reverse image lookup tool such as TinEye, RevIMG, or even good old Google Reverse Images takes only a few moments to reveal the original source of memes, gifs, and other visual content you use to support your points online.
Customer reviews can make or break your business. Consumers trust their peers’ opinions of your brand when deciding to invest in your product or service. While you’re naturally going to filter and only post raving testimonials on your company website, you better believe potential customers are digging a lot deeper to learn what information you’re not sharing.
As a consumer, you can’t buy a product anywhere online these days without being bombarded by spam texts, calls, and emails asking to rate your experience. Many companies incentivize making your ‘honest’ opinion public knowledge. In fact, e-commerce companies like Amazon began prohibiting offering customers free products or discounts for their positive reviews. And many placed a purchase limit to qualify to leave a review because it became difficult to find valid information from verified users.
In the same way buyers catch on to the invisible hand behind questionable marketing through reviews, they also clue in when negative feedback is ignored on the public front or worse, doesn’t exist. This is a red flag your brand is either trying to hide something or discounts those users’ experiences.
The key is to create balance and resolution for customers. You can’t please everyone but you can make sure they feel heard and their needs are met. Being open, active, and honest in how you engage with your customers through content marketing allows your target audience to see you are committed to creating an accurate and authentic image for your brand.
About Crystal DeTemple McNeel
I'm the editorial and visual director at Ride the Sail Marketing. I've always enjoyed the challenge and thrill associated with the command of words on human emotions. When I'm not editing, designing, or drafting for RSM and our amazing clients, I'm nurturing the love of reading and writing in my personal tribe of tiny humans, or making music. Thanks for visiting our blog!