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Credibility Online A Critical Issue In Social Media

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Evaluating Online Credibility - Who Do You Believe About Social Media?

Q: You've been a harsh, sometimes abrasive critic of what you've called poor and misleading information about social media, customer service, and e-learning. It sounds like you don't believe anyone, particularly those that post on social media platforms. So, who DO you give credence to?

Robert: You're right. I do not find 99% of people who post and participate on social media credible, without them having a strong track record of posting insightful things, and NOT posting stupid things. On social media you have to follow someone for quite some time to determine their agendas, and its the agendas that often bias what they pass on to others. So, to be blunt, when I look for really solid information, I tend to discount Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and most blogs. Another factor, the signal to noise ratios, and repeated stuff is terrible on all of these.

Q: So, if you don't trust social media sources including blogs, what DO you trust? Where do you go to get stuff you feel you can trust?

Robert: Part of what I've been doing for 15 years on the internet is actually acting like an information curator (before its become fashionable to use the term), so I get to go to a lot of different places online. It's kind of interesting.

Some sites jump out at you and say: "I'm credible, professional and skilled so you can trust me/us", while other sites say "We pander to whatever people might want to read, and we just say the same things over and over". It's very hard for me to articulate how I separate one from the other, so maybe some examples. is a hugely successful site from every perspective. Or almost every one. To me, it does not say: "We're pros and we make sure what is on our site is accurate." Uh-uh. Now, part of my feelings about mashable come from it appearing like its purpose is to post large volumes of stuff, and rightly or wrongly, it doesn't look like any of the material on their site is vetted through editors who check for originality, content quality, critical thinking and accuracy. It also appears to me like the site is written at a lowest common denominator. Articles are more like soundbytes than really researched material. Often the material there is a rehash of other sources.

So, while mashable is a success, it's not a "go to" place for me. That's not to say I never visit. I just don't find the site itself trustworthy as a source, and sadly, I often find errors in the articles, or article titles that have nothing to do with the content. That tells me what the site managers think is important. Volume. So it seems.

Q: So you are not a mashable fan in terms of credibility. Can you provide a comparison site?

Robert: Indeed. Take a look at Go-CEM (click to open a new window). I just came upon this site today, and I have no idea who they are. Take a look at the articles, and the contributors on the topic of customer experience management. Here's a few things that jump out.

Most articles are rather long. Let's face it. If you want to cover a topic properly, with some depth and originality, you simply cannot do it in 400-500 words, as is often the case on a site like Mashable and for about 95% of the sites on the Internet. To me, provided the material is plumped up with junk, it means credibility.

The writing level is rather advanced and sophisticated. It's clearly not aimed at the casual visitors. The material seems to be written for other professionals, and as such it has the feel of a professional journal rather than People magazine. Mashable, on the other hand is clearly written for the masses if you go by the writing and reading levels (which is why its so successful). No doubt Go-CEM received a fraction of the visitors that Mashable receives. Yet the site gives me the impression of quality thought and research.

Each article has the author, his or her affiliation, and degrees prominently displayed. Mashable, and many other sites do not do that. Go-CEM brands its writers as experts with qualifications. Does Mashable do the same thing? No, because mashable isn't about qualifications or indepth coverage. It's about volume, and popular success. Who writes the material for Mashable is largely irrelevant.

Oddly enough the layout and type face of GO-CEM is attrocious. The type is way too small, the screen is not optimized very well in terms of space usage, but while that is bothersome, it doesn't detract from credibility (it doesn't help either). Compare with Mashable. Mashable is a "withit" place.

Then there's the ads. There are no or few ads for third parties on GO-CEM. It's clear they don't make their money by selling ads. Mashable? Uh well, ads galore. There's nothing wrong with that and again they are monetizing a successful and busy site, but does it say: "We are serious professionals here"? Not like on GO-CEM.

Q: So, what you are saying is that you use some of these "indicators" to evaluate credibility?

Robert: Yes. They are very rough. I'd rather not have to use them since some of them are superficial and introduce bias into what I believe, and who I believe. However, in a world where anyone can be anyone or anything, I need to assess credibility. While I know that some of the things I mentioned are superficial, and there will be lots of exceptions, I've found I'm not usually disappointed when I use them to determine credibility. Your mileage may vary.


About Company

Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992. Since then Robert has trained thousands of employees to deal with angry, hostile, abusive and potentially violent customers. He has authored over 20 books on various subjects, many published by McGraw-Hill.


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