What’s the fastest way a journalism major can fail an assignment in news writing class?
Spell a proper name incorrectly.
As far as my journalism school professors were concerned, misspelling your interviewee’s name was a cardinal sin – and it earned an automatic F. It didn’t matter if your reporting was stellar, if the piece was exceptionally well-written, or you’d handed it in well before the deadline. If ‘Dian Fossey’ appeared in your copy as ‘Diane Fossey,’ you earned a big, fat zero.
While this grading system may seem harsh, my professors had a good reason for it. It was the fastest way to teach aspiring journalists the craft wasn’t about writing or producing. It was about accuracy.
I’ve stuck to the accuracy mantra from editorial jobs to PR and marketing roles to freelance writing for technology and data brands. Just like my professors, I have my reasons.
True: Accuracy Matters in Content Marketing
Why should brands care if their content marketing has all the facts perfectly right?
A mistake can put your credibility at risk, which can damage your reputation, customer loyalty, and profit.
The purpose of content marketing is to drive sales. But in order to convince people to invest in your technology, your services, your solutions, or even your people, they have to trust you first. Trust is rooted in relationship building, and content marketing is designed to help people get to know you.
As potential customers search for help to solve their problems, they’re looking for knowledgeable sources that can provide accurate and useful information and solutions. That’s where your content comes in. If your blog or ebook consistently presents answers using reliable sources, over time, clients will come to trust you. They’ll continue to come to you for trusted answers and, in the process, get to know your products and services well.
False: Fact Checking Is Easy
Fact checking can be a tricky activity. You might think having a world of information at your fingertips makes this process easier. You may not realize that to properly vet information, there are rules. If you don’t follow the rules, you can end up with unreliable information.
Let me illustrate with an example.
There’s a fact I’ve seen cited on just about every major vendor site in technology. Let’s call it data point “P” for popular. It’s a great number and illustrates a problem many vendors are trying to solve. However, this fact is from a study published in the early 2010’s. It’s been used so many times that it’s now often referenced with no link back to the original study.
This is a fact-checking failure.
These six rules can help you avoid a similar fate.
1. Choose sources wisely.
Only use reputable sources. At Version A, we keep a list of what I call Tier 1 journalistic sources such as the Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review. These publications have full-scale, reputable editorial operations with checks and balances in place. We know we can trust the facts presented because they’ve proven themselves to be good fact checkers.
2. Check the date.
In our fast-paced world, information becomes out of date almost immediately. It can be a challenge to find recent data from a reputable source. But we understand how important it is. That’s why we take the time to dig (deep) for information that’s preferably less than 12 months and certainly no more than 18 months old. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, like U.S Census data, which is collected on a regular 10-year interval. In these cases, our rule is to use the most recent data set.
3. Check quotes.
Sometimes spoken words have a different meaning on the page, so it’s always best to run quotes past the interviewee for their approval. Asking speakers to confirm meaning before you publish ensures you represent their point of view accurately.
4. Verify links.
The reality is links break – or become inactive. Leading potential customers off your page to a 404 or “page not found” message is a sure-fire way to tick them off. It also sends a message that you didn’t take the time to make sure your reference source is active. So why would the reader think you’ll take the extra time to ensure high quality in the other areas of your business?
5. Avoid Joe’s blog.
Disinformation and misinformation are an unfortunate outcome of the internet. While some of this is intentional, we can’t overlook the role played by self-proclaimed experts and influencers. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to set up an online presence and grant yourself any title you want. However, there’s often no editorial process or fact checking in place, which can lead to errors. It’s best to avoid using these types of sources as reference material in your content marketing, so you avoid the risk of presenting unsubstantiated claims or data to your customers.
6. Be sure to reference survey data correctly.
Be careful not to misrepresent survey findings. A good rule of thumb is to use the wording from the question verbatim. Another note on survey data: Be sure that you reference it correctly and that you’re allowed to use it in your blog post. Some survey companies don’t allow anyone to use their data findings without permission. If you do want to go ahead and use their data, be sure you ask first. That will save you some embarrassing pain down the road.
The fact of the matter is, facts matter. A good fact-checking process will help you develop a reputation as a credible and reliable source of independent information your customers know they can trust. And trust is good for business.