This is the first of a two-part blog series.
Over the years, I’ve written extensively about the content marketing that our interactive marketing firm produces for clients. In doing so, I’ve stressed the need for superior narrative flow, research, clarity and actionable information in blogs, industry press bylines, case studies, white papers and other forms of content.
But I’ve never written about another key ingredient: accuracy.
Unfortunately, in the effort to emphasize brand messaging, the actual accuracy of that message can fall by the wayside. However, we live in an era when “fake news” accusations fly fast – too fast to place our clients’ credibility at risk.
“Sure, getting a fact wrong or misinterpreting a stat isn’t necessarily the same as telling a bald-faced lie,” writes content marketer/blogger Jonathan Crossfield, in an article published for the Content Marketing Institute. “But neither is it trivial when our content is supposedly intended to create the impression of authority and expertise. In short, fact-checking matters just as much in a 280-character tweet as it does in a 10-page white paper. But, boy, has the bar for accuracy slipped worryingly low in this fast-paced, attention-seeking online world.”
In an optimistic sense, I view this as a great opportunity to create value distinction: Less than one-quarter of Americans believe that brands are honest, according to research from Cohn and Wolfe. However, 52 percent of consumers would recommend a brand to others if they considered it authentic, and 49 percent would pledge their loyalty to such a brand.
Thus, creating content that is effective and accurate benefits an agency in multiple ways. When clients recognize that you highly prioritize these qualities, they gain confidence in your content’s credibility, integrity and authority, while realizing that their intended audience will appreciate the same qualities. They understand that strong content marketing can position them as thought leaders before thousands of potential new customers and industry peers. Without credibility and authority, how can clients earn the level of respect required from the target audience to secure such standing? It’s easy for one of those thousands of readers/users to “throw the flag” on a statistic or statement of fact by doing a little research and post a scathing “gotcha!” in the comments section – and then on social media – thus tarnishing a brand’s reputation instead of strengthening it.
There are intentional mistakes and honest ones that creep into content – I approach either one with a sense of vigilance and devotion to authenticity. In many cases, this requires a painstaking approach to accuracy. Over the years as a reporter and, now, as a “content guy,” I’ve developed a number of dogmas and best practices about fact checking. Today, I’ll weigh in on three of them. In part II of this blog, I’ll offer three more:
Never trust something because “someone said so.” If the Washington Post’s Fact Checker column proves anything during election seasons, it’s that anybody – presidents, senators, governors, CEOs, cause advocates, etc. – will “get it wrong,” whether unintentionally or by design. Everything presented as “real” warrants authentication. By now, we should know that, when a political candidate drops a “Holy cow!” statistic in a speech, there’s frequently an unstated and possibly even “inconvenient truth” about the number that the candidate isn’t revealing. Anyone who went to journalism school has heard the phrase, “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.” Today, the same rule applies to content, particularly in the “fake news” era.
Cross check with multiple resources. Thanks to the Internet, you can test the validity of a statement or statistic by crosschecking it through multiple resources to come up with the most convincing representation of the truth. No, I’m not against using Wikipedia as a source. But mainly as a secondary one that usually packs a lot of good information in an economical amount of space. When you call up strong material on Wiki, I suggest following up by going to the citations referenced as a primary source.
Verify with the original source. Wiki citations will lead you to media articles about your topic. Articles from respectable publications are generally fine. Still, reporting inaccuracies and biases on the part of a writer (especially in an opinion piece) can result in incorrect and/or misleading information within the piece. So it’s more advisable – in the case of, say, a government position paper or industry survey – to find the original research, quote it carefully and attribute/link to it. Many online articles include the direct links to the original source. Or they’ll at least give you the name of the organization that developed the research and/or the title of the report. With that, you should be capable of tracking down the primary source.
At our agency, we constantly take these steps to make ensure our content is not only compelling and message-focused – but credible. We’re confident that this distinguishes our work from that of our competitors.