Monday, May 5, 2014

We Could All Use a Journalism Class

I was going to retweet a respected source's tweet about a controversial topic because I really agreed with this person's comment. But then I stopped - What if the information wasn't right? I thought to myself - "Am I spreading misinformation or is this legit? I don't want to be 'that guy'." After a little thought and the realization that I didn't have the time to verify the source of the information so I did not retweet.

Many times the most frustrating thing I see in social media is the echo chamber effect where one person (wittingly or otherwise) puts out misinformation followed by untold thousands blindly repeating it because it "sounds good" or seems legit on first blush. Few people approach word of mouth with a skeptical mindset and even fewer approach information with a curious mind and make the effort to understand the source and what the information means. As a result there is nothing but echos of rotten information rippling across the surface of the social pond (cesspool depending on your viewpoint I guess).

In college I spent a lot of time studying with my wonderful partner as she pursued her communications degree in journalism. It was an enlightening look into how a very old industry with its own spotty history approaches the integrity of data and the values of brand, profit, legality, and trust. A journalist gathers news but also must be able to vouch for that data and take into account how that impacts the community, their own career, and most importantly in some viewpoints, the branding and profitability of their employer. No journalist in their right mind would blindly repeat information without first verifying their source. This is Journalism 101 for freshman. 

When you take a look at repeating information from the perspective of an employee or business this skepticism makes sense to most people. Place those same people in the social media realm and much of that sensibility goes out the window. Everyone has their own printing press and no editor as long as they don't violate a TOS. Besides, who wants to verify everything they post? It's so much work and a trusted source is a trusted source, right? Your personal brand is on the line every time you post something. Your own credibility is at stake with every re-share. You have no control if your post becomes the next viral thing. Worst case scenario your content goes viral because of ridicule. Not a position anyone wants to be in. 

We're all journalists now. You may not consider the impact your online presence has on your real-world life but in the business world you'll be Googled every time you make a new contact. You will be judged on the content you produce. No matter how much you try to separate your business from your personal content, as time goes on the lines become blurrier and you cannot avoid people associating you with the work you do. It's not that YOU can't keep them separate - it's that everyone else doesn't care about the separation. 

Check your sources. Verify information. Your stature is judged by the value of the content you share and produce. Before you click send, always ask, "What does this do for my personal brand? What will happen if this isn't true?"

Note: Besides the journalism analogies, this is all stuff others greater than I have blogged, tweeted, posted, and talked about before. I only bring it up because I went though the thought process just this morning. It's a good reminder, however. If personal brand is a new concept to you please reach out...there's some stuff you're going to want to read.