Christian Heilmann

Check the source before you tweet

Friday, December 16th, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Working for a large entity of the web is an awesome thing. You have access to great people, resources and you don’t have to chase the next paycheck or prepare the next pitch document to boot. The thing that can make it taxing – if you let it get to you – is that everybody and their dog has to say something about your employer. These things mostly fall into a few categories:

  • The “company XYZ should do this to be successful (and/or survive)” post. I like these, they normally come from people as far removed from the entity as possible. In most cases, they aren’t even working for other companies or as business consultants. Which is a shame, really, as when they know so many amazing simple things to bring success then they should bring it to where people implement it, right?
  • The “I used to use XYZ but I like ABC now” post. Good for you, if you are happy, I am happy
  • The “OMG did you read this about your company” tweet

The latter is what I want to talk about a bit.

Why repeat the report?

The most annoying blog posts, tweets and other “social media” releases are re-hashing what a certain tech media outlet has said. In some cases, even taken out of context, boiled down to the most shocking or “amazing thing”. The fallacy there is that you are not telling the world what you are outraged about or interested in – all you do is bring the tech media outlet you got the message from money as visits are clicks and clicks are money.

Mike Butcher of TechCrunch gave a very honest and open talk about this lately which didn’t come as a surprise to me but should be something to take into consideration when you give a certain article your name and stamp of approval by retweeting it:

How to deal with tech media by @mikebutcher

View more presentations from mikebutcher

TL;DR: every piece on a tech blog is there to bring readers to the blog. It is not about the content – it is about getting the headline and being the first to talk about it.

I worked as a news journalist and this is really what it boiled down to: you have to be the first to have the info and when your media outlet is dependent on numbers you have to spice it up until it really gets people excited. If that means bending the truth or making wild accusations without backup, so be it. You can always apologise later. You will be washed clean but the original rumour will still bring people to your site. You win. You get paid.

Use the source

As web developers, view-source always has been our friend. It is great for debugging and it is great for looking beyond the shiny. You should apply the same to news reports on the web:

  • If there is a certain news about a company, check the official press release for comparison. If the thing the hoo-hah is about is real then there is one.
  • If the article talks about a source, go to that source and tweet about that one. In many cases, this is better quality. A good example just happened: A friend of mine, Dennis Lembree, tweeted about a the best places to work report on TechCrunch and complained about it being inaccessible (as the data was an image with no text alternative). Looking at the news piece I found the source article on which is in HTML
  • Check where the source is coming from. There is no point in debugging the generated HTML when it is assembled somewhere else. If the person making a certain assumption about a company has no clue about the subject matter why give them the satisfaction to repeat what he/she said? Asking the wrong person for a comment is never a good plan, much like asking an unfunny car tester to give a quote about union matters can cause controversy

Don’t mistake SEO for the real thing

A post that really got me lately was 21 Types Of Social Content To Boost Your SEO linked here with the keyword horse manure (to see what that does to their Google rank). Whilst probably well-intended I was really annoyed by the tips given there to get eyeballs to your site. The ideas to get more people to your site – regardless of your content – are to use a lot of techniques, the ones that got me annoyed were the following:

1.) The Manifesto
The Manifesto is the viral equivalent of preaching to the choir. Write a passionate, eloquent, or well-researched argument that your niche will wholeheartedly agree with. Since you’ve already got an army of believers who agree with you, they’re already primed and ready to share your argument.
Example: Why I’m a Vegetarian, Dammit, an essay on a vegetarian recipe blog, received over 14,000 shares on StumbleUpon alone

Yes, that is because a manifesto is something you should believe in – by definition.

2.) The Controversy
The opposite of the Manifesto, the Controversy is all about stirring up some dissent in your niche. Write a well-written rebuttal to another argument, challenge a popular opinion, or spark a controversial discussion and watch the reader comments fly.

Translation: your readers are idiots who need to be lead into shouting at each other. Be the puppet master. Sensible discussion is for hippies.

5.) The Epic
Why do a top 10 list when you can do a top 100? Go for gold and craft a mega-list relevant to your industry. Examples of epic titles include “50 Must-Have Firefox Add-ons,” or “101 Tips for Increasing Productivity.”

Yes, cause reading 101 tips will totally increase your productivity. And the more add-ons, the better. Then you can also complain when your browser is sluggish.

8.) The Directory
Why make readers sift through mounds of data when you can do it for them? Collect the best links from around the internet and share them with your readers. Gather the best advice for your niche, the top news stories, the leading Twitter accounts in your field, or a simple collection of interesting information.

Remember, kids, this is how Yahoo started and see where they are now! Also, social bookmarking sites do not exist, your blog should do this!

11.) The Expert
In viral content and in life, it’s not what you know, but who you know. Name recognition is a powerful thing. When Mark Zuckerberg talks about Facebook or Mario Batali talks about food, people listen. For even more viral impact, gather a group of experts: “15 Published Authors on Writing,” for example.

My proposal “10 martial arts tricks Douglas Crockford never gave out before” (who the heck is Mario Batali?)

13.) The Visual Aid
Visual representations of mass amounts of data are easy-to-digest while still containing a lot of “meaty” content. Infographics aren’t the only example of this—think graphs, informational videos, or interactive maps, too.

Because nothing makes lies and pointless comparisons nicer than beautiful colours and shapes. Funnily enough I get spam offering me to do infographics for my blog. There is quite a market there.

Recognising the danger signs

There are a few sources I don’t retweet or mention and get very bored when people do. These are:

  • Blogs where every link in the text links to the same blog. This is lame SEO and pure arrogance. “This assumption is totally true as you can see in our article of last month” – what tells me that one was right?
  • Blogs that don’t link to the source or mention where you can get it.
  • Blogs that re-blog other blogs. These are the ones that didn’t get to be the first to have the piece of news, but are too lazy to do their own research which is a shame as they could make a news piece out of their competition saying nonsense.
  • People using fill sentences like “scientists say” or “in the expert opinion” whilst failing to say who these are.
  • Posts spelling utter devastation or total success. It is never that black or white

YMMV of course, but I’d rather give out some information that is coming from the source than keep an artificial discussion going that was first and foremost invented to get clicks.

Tags: ,

Share on Mastodon (needs instance)

Share on Twitter

My other work: