This is the second of a two-part blog series.
In a recent blog, I elaborated upon how good fact checking adds value to content marketing. At our integrated marketing agency, we spend considerable time gathering persuasive research details to support our clients’ messages – and getting these details right.
Why? Because such steps elevate the authority of your content. Companies – and their target audiences – are drawn to blogs, bylined articles, white papers, etc. that are not only compelling, but trustworthy. In today’s social media-fueled “gotcha!” universe, it’s far too easy for a single individual to expose flaws within an article. And it just takes one publicly posted flagging of an error to damage your credibility.
In part I of this blog, I weighed in on three tips for effective fact checking. As promised, here are three more:
Scrutinize statistics. As the saying goes, “Figures lie and liars figure.” There are so many numbers which are trotted out as “truth,” but fail to hold up after minimal vetting. As recommended in part I of this blog, go to the source of the statistic, as opposed to trusting a second-hand reference point. Call up survey methodology to pinpoint the number of participants and who they were. Examine the data to accurately assess what it really says.
The chart below represents a textbook example of the dangers of “running with” statistics without carefully reviewing them. Compare the summary paragraph of the chart (which was contained in a widely distributed survey report) to the actual data. If you only read the summary paragraph, you’d conclude that journalists are much more likely to review a press release with multimedia elements than a release without videos, infographics, etc. However, by taking a closer look at the numbers, the opposite proves correct: Just 31 percent of reporters are more likely to review a release with multimedia, compared to 44 percent who are less likely to do so.
So how did this organization come up with the statement, “… more than half (54 percent) are more likely to review a press release that includes multimedia than one that does not …”? Because the survey researchers combined the “yes” responses (31 percent) with the “maybes” (22.6 percent) – an interpretation that happened to align with a key agenda item for the organization. Unfortunately, numerous articles about the survey use the incorrect interpretation of the data, without closer examination of the numbers. So the “54 percent” figure is now accepted as an unchallenged “truth,” even though the survey’s real numbers say otherwise. (I brought this to the organization’s attention and, to its credit, it acknowledged the error and indicated to me that it will more accurately represent future research.)
The takeaway: Sure, you can manipulate statistics within content. But, in the process, you could damage your trustworthiness as an authority – an asset too priceless to risk.
Copy/paste is your friend. It’s easy to get a proper name wrong: Tech companies these days get highly creative with the spelling and capitalization of their corporate name and brands. We can often make mistakes with the names of long-standing organizations. (It’s the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for instance, not Federal Bureau of Investigations.) In this context, copy/paste stands out as a quick and foolproof way to “get it right” in your content, especially if you copy/paste official company/agency names, executive names and titles, report titles, etc. direct from the original source. It’s a good example of “working smarter, not harder.” If used ethically, you’re not plagiarizing when you copy/paste an executive’s precise position title, or a speech to quote. You’re simply ensuring that there are no transcription-based mistakes made.
When in doubt … Run it by the original source. Look, we’re all human. Anyone can read a position paper statement or survey data point/summary and incorrectly interpret it. Or you may encounter ambiguity within various wordings/phrasings within the summaries. So what’s stopping you from emailing the source and running your questions and/or interpretation through that individual or organization? Nothing really. If you can download a report, you can likely find the source behind it – along with needed contact information, especially when such information flows so freely in the modern, digital age. When I do this, the original sources usually express appreciation (not irritation) for my efforts, because they want content marketers to “get it right” as well.
Investing in an extensive – even exhaustive – approach to fact checking isn’t simply “the right thing to do.” It’s a smart thing to do, to distinguish your company’s thought leadership postings from the wealth of other content out there competing for users’ attention.
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