Category: writing

Fake News: Why it Matters and What We Can Do About it

The 2016 presidential election did a lot more than make most of us uneasy and want to crawl into a dark hole and hide until it was over. It brought to light, in full force, the issue of “fake news” and its ability to spread like a contagious foot fungus. We saw it spread across social media and the entire Internet.

Regardless of the spot on the political spectrum in which you find yourself, fake news is something we’ve all read about in the past couple of months, and it needs to be addressed in a real and practical way. It’s time to stop and ask ourselves a few questions, and attempt to get some answers.

What is “fake news”?

Many individuals now think of fake news as a form of political propaganda, especially since its existence received a lot of attention during and after the 2016 election. I mean, when is the whole truth and nothing but the truth disclosed during a political campaign anyway? The tradition of highlighting not-so-nice things about your opponent in a blatantly biased TV commercial ad during election season should be expected. Fabricating news entirely shouldn’t be though.

Lately, we have seen fake news go beyond traditional political propaganda or tabloid ads claiming a celebrity was abducted by aliens. One well-known example was dubbed “Pizzagate”, when a man fired a rifle in a Washington D.C. pizza restaurant after reading a story online that the restaurant was involved in a child-trafficking ring led by Hillary Clinton.

In his Buzzfeed article “Top Fake News of 2016,” Craig Silverman highlights research he conducted using BuzzSumo. Silverman discusses the top-performing fake content on Facebook in 2016, with a link to a Google spreadsheet with links to the 50 top-performing articles.

Here are some fake stories that were in the top 20 on the list:

  • “Obama Signs Executive Order Banning the Pledge of Allegiance in Schools Nationwide” (This one received over 2 million Facebook engagements!)
  • “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement”
  • “Trump Offering Free One-Way Tickets to Africa & Mexico for Those Who Wanna Leave America”
  • “FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide”
  • “President Obama Confirms He Will Refuse to Leave Office If Trump Is Elected”

The best way to tell if a story is “fake news” is to verify its source and its credibility. Here is a starter  list of fake news websites to be wary of on Facebook if you’re interested in seeing what unreliable sources look like. And here is another list.

Is fake news a real problem? If so, for whom?

Fake news was obviously a problem for the individuals inside the pizza restaurant in D.C. where a man started shooting his rifle. But it’s also a prevalent problem among Americans in general.

According to a recent Pew Research study:

 “About two-in-three U.S. adults (64%) say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events. This sense is shared widely across incomes, education levels, partisan affiliations and most other demographic characteristics.”

So, yes, fake news is a real problem for most Americans. According to the same Pew study, a quarter of Americans also admitted to spreading fake news in 2016, and most of them were well aware that the items they were sharing were fake.

What’s even more disturbing than a large chunk of Americans knowingly engaging with and spreading fake news? The fact that engagement for fake news on Facebook surpassed that of the content from major news outlets leading up to and during the 2016 election. Pulitzer winner, Politifact, even designated their “2016 Lie of the Year” to “fake news” itself. Because there were so many instances of fake news stories that were created, by so many individuals, they were unable to pinpoint just one.

Oxford Dictionaries selected “post-truth” as its word of 2016. It’s defined as the condition when “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Fake news is a sign that we are living in a post-truth society.

 

Important Question:

When we can’t agree on straightforward facts — or even that there are such things as facts — how are we supposed to talk to each other?

 

Fake news is also a major problem for students across the United States. This Stanford History Education Group study reveals that across the United States, many students can’t tell the difference between a reported news article, a persuasive opinion piece, and a corporate ad. This is a major problem. Future generations should be able to make these distinctions, especially when they are old enough to vote.

Who or what is responsible for fake news?

Because fake news is primarily spread across social media and search engines, Facebook and Google were accused of aiding the contagion of fake content across the web during the 2016 election. Many experts claimed that there was more each company could have done with their algorithms to prevent fake news stories from spreading. Each company has since put the wheels in motion to stop fake news from spreading. You can read more about that here.

Some claim that most individuals who create fake news do it for the revenue that ads on Facebook and Google generate. “I make like $10,000 a month from AdSense,” Paul Horner, a prolific, Facebook-focused fake-news writer claimed in this Washington Post article. However, there are a lot of people like Jestin Coler (and his 20+ writers) who “insists this [creating fake news] is not about money. It’s about showing how easily fake news spreads. And fake news spread wide and far before the election.” (source– NPR).

While we like to blame social media and writers for the epidemic of fake news, it’s up to us as content-consumers to verify what we are reading. And hopefully a lot more of us start caring about the quality of what we are consuming.

How can we prevent fake news from spreading?

The first and obvious way to prevent fake news from spreading is to refrain from creating it or sharing it at all.

Here are some other tips:

  • Bookmark some of the sources listed in this post that identify some of the better known fake news outlets and stories.
  • Determine who wrote the piece in question- the byline. Verify the author’s history and reputation as a writer, as well as the sources they are using.
  • Identify when (date and time) the piece in question was published. Note:“Breaking News” is continuously updated.
  • Notice how the piece makes you feel when you read it. If you get enraged, take a breath and check the facts before sharing it.
  • Use sources and 3rd party fact-checkers to verify facts in the articles you encounter, such as Politifact, Factcheck.org, The Washington Post Fact Checker. And use the SharetheFacts.org’s widget.

 

We should never believe anything we read without thinking about it first, especially if it conjures up intense emotions. And we should always use our critical thinking skills.

Share this post if you want others to be more aware too!

 

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Quantity vs Quality in Digital Content: How to Decide Which is Better for You…More or Less

Content Marketing is going to be the activity with the greatest impact for digital marketers in 2016:

digital_marketing_activities_2016

(source)

So, whether you are yet a key player in creating content, creating content is becoming THE HUGEST factor we all must consider when fine-tuning our digital marketing initiatives. Starting a blog is by far the best way to share and showcase your content. And whether you work for yourself or another entity, showcasing what you are all about in a digital space is very important nowadays. Make no mistake, “digital marketing” is not just a term in the wheelhouse of professional marketers and corporations.

When it comes to promoting yourself for a job, showcasing your writing to potential publishers, becoming a thought leader in your industry or academic field, promoting your company’s brand, or gaining more supporters for your nonprofit organization, etc. … producing digital content that leads to measurable results is a major factor to consider.

For solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, businesses of all sizes, nonprofits, and other organizations alike…

If YOU are:

  • Deciding whether to start a blog, digital or social marketing campaign
  • In the beginning stages of starting a blog, digital or social marketing campaign
  • Have an existing blog, digital or social marketing campaign that’s reach, impact, and following is waning or needs revamping

Then the chances are high that the question of whether you should create more content (quantity) OR spend your effort collecting data and research for content that your target audience values the most (quality), is at the crux of your campaign efforts. You are not alone in this dilemma.

“77% of marketers will increase content production in the next 12 months (end of 2014 into 2015). Now that we are in 2016, the volume of content being produced is becoming higher and higher.

For Bill Belew’s students who posted short articles multiple times a day instead of only one article once a day, their content “produced more than 10 times the organic search results”. Publishing more content, especially optimized content, does increase the likelihood that your content will appear in more search results.

However, while publishing content multiple times a day may increase the likelihood that someone will find your content in a search engine result, is it worth it? Others are surely finding your content, but is that content valuable to them? Are they going to continue to come back to what you produce? Does that matter for your business model or personal marketing objectives?

The same individuals who say they plan on producing more content, also admit that their

Top 5 content marketing challenges are:

  • Lack of Time/Bandwidth to Create Content (51%)
  • Producing Enough Content Variety/Volume (50%)
  • Producing Truly Engaging Content (42%)
  • Measuring Content Effectiveness (38%)
  • Developing Consistent Content Strategy (34%)

Hence the dilemma is born. Is it actually possible to produce more content when you have limited time and or a limited budget for resources? And if you can create more content, are you still able to produce content that is engaging, effective, consistent, yet varied enough? Do you have to sacrifice one in order to have the other?

Quantity vs Quality Argument (in a nutshell)

Content creators and marketers debate whether publishing short and frequent posts are more beneficial than publishing long-form, well-researched, and meticulously edited posts. Either way, you are still investing time and money in your resources to produce more (1,000 words is still 1,000 words whether it is in one post or three). So, which side is correct? The answer is… it depends. As always in marketing, it depends on who your target audience is, and what your goals are. Let’s now look at the Argument for Quantity and the Argument for Quality, before coming to a conclusion; while keeping our own set of goals in mind.

Argument for Quantity

Content creators and marketers who opt for publishing more, shorter articles (500 words or less a piece, 10+ times a month), argue:

  • The reader can get to the information she/he is looking for in the text faster. Typically, someone who is searching for an answer to a specific question or problem via a search engine will glance at an article and determine whether she/he wants to wade through all of the text to find the answer. (source)
  • The quality of an article is too subjective for a search engine to pick up; they only speak SEO lingo and have no way of determining what will be valuable to a reader. Search engines can only determine how many pieces of content you post and pick up key phrases and words related to the search request. (source)
  • More content produced equals more traffic to your website and higher ROI (Return On Investment) “Companies that published 16+ blog posts per month got almost 3.5X more traffic than companies that published between 0 – 4 monthly posts.” And “companies with 1 – 10 employees and 11 – 25 employees… saw the highest return on leads when they blogged more than 10 times per month. When they published 11+ blog posts per month, they generated almost twice as many leads as companies that published 6 – 10 blog posts per month.” (source)

Argument for Quality

Content creators and marketers who opt for publishing less, longer articles (500 words or more a piece, once or twice a week), argue:

  • The reader can get to the information she/he actually wants to engage with and enjoy. The reader will find content that doesn’t just answer one question or problem they have, but many. Long-form content, therefore, can have a higher return on ROI because it can be broken down into many pieces and shared multiple times for different reasons. (source)
  • Search engines know if readers find the content they are clicking on to be valuable. Even if you get more people to click on your content from the search results page, search engines will still be able to determine who is reading your content all the way through and clicking on links, who’s engaging with it (commenting, liking, sharing), and how long they stay on your content before moving on to the next thing. (source)
  • Content creators and companies that produce longer articles position themselves as thought leaders in their field and provide genuine value to their customers and audiences. If you take the time to conduct the proper research, understand what your audience is interested in reading, what their concerns are–AND produce content that responds to those complexities (while promoting your brand), then your audience will come to trust you and your content’s value. (source)

Answer to the Quantity vs Quality Argument (in a nutshell)

Know your audience and or your customers. Do your research and collect data about your audience– Who are they? What are their concerns? What platforms are they on and can they easily access your content?

Have different types of content out there to see what works for your goals; test it out and see what works and when. Do your readers engage with and share short how-to articles more than they do long-form researched articles? Or do they spend more time on your in-depth content and write thoughtful comments? What type of content is leading your readers to take more action (shares, visits to your website, or completed transactions)?

You should incorporate both quantity and quality into your digital marketing strategies. You shouldn’t have to choose a side.

For instance– If you’re a 10-person company launching a new web platform, you could have 2 long-form posts about the research behind what led you to create your platform (market research supporting why people need and or want the platform), and then break it down into smaller bits for smaller articles all about the different functions and features of the platform and how it compares to others in the market and why it’s easy or fun to use; keep it light and incorporate images. Research shows that using infographics is now a favorite among content consumers. “Infographics are liked and shared on social media 3X more than other any other type of content.” (source) Why? Because they are easy to digest, trust, and share. And they tell a story.

The argument about “Quantity vs. Quality” in digital content doesn’t seem to ultimately exist once you get to know your readers and what they want to read. If you understand the problems of your readers, you can produce a variety of content that addresses their needs and wants without sacrificing the quality that it offers. The important part is to measure and test the content you publish in order to see if it is indeed having the desired effect, and whether or not it is in alignment with your goals.

Happy content creating and sharing!

To Blog or Not To Blog … That is THE Question. Here’s My Answer.

Forgive the pun with the clichéd Shakespearean quote.

In my defense, deciding whether to start a blog is THE question for:

  • Entrepreneurs
  • Trendsetters
  • Marketers and Content Strategists
  • Small, Medium, and Large Businesses
  • Researchers and Scholars
  • Political and Social Activists
  • Nonprofit Organizations
  • Government Entities
  • Statisticians and Data Experts
  • Freelancers
  • Hobbyists

… As you can see, the list can continue…

C’mon, everyone’s doing it. But, should you? … Should I? …

Time is our most precious commodity. Planning and managing any type of content can be very time-consuming in the beginning stages, especially if you haven’t the foggiest notion where to start, or if you should even start in the first place. I hope to shed some light on this conundrum, as I navigate through this experience myself.

If you want to get straight to business, you can skip to the Eye-Popping Stats About Blogging and 5 Reasons Why I Started My Blog sections below.

 

My Experience- Why I Started a Blog

A year ago, I was living in Chicago working for a Fortune 500 company. I was a small fish in a very big pond. And I wanted to swim! I was new to the tech scene and I was a sponge, soaking up all of the information I could get my hands on about systems’ integrations and coding websites (among a lot of other things). I wanted to learn everything there was to know about technology. The possibilities made available to me through learning more about technology were endless! I went in head first.

When I started to get involved with a group inside the company that discussed issues about women and minorities in the tech scene, I instantly became a supporter and advocate for these issues. At this time, I also started volunteering with organizations outside of the company that helped middle school and high school students learn how to code; they also worked to set the students up with internships and relevant job skills in the tech industry. It was amazing to help these kids and to be a part of the future of tech. I was inspired.

By way of being involved with these groups and organizations, I began to learn more and more about the digital divide, as well as the lack of a clear and coherent definition across sectors and industries regarding what exactly it is. Behold, my passion and mission were born. Answers were needed!

After years of perfecting the craft of writing an academic research paper and marketing copy for organizations—writing for others— I finally had something to say about a topic that was important to me and members in my community, something I wanted to talk to everyone about. I wasn’t in it to make money. I wanted to be engaged with others and help move digital literacy initiatives ahead in any way possible.

I started networking… a lot. I met a lot of amazing people in the startup industry and co-working spaces, technical experts, leaders and founders of nonprofit organizations, politicians, researchers, executives, and individuals (like myself at the time) who were passionate about a variety of different noble causes… but were unsure of where to start.

I received some amazing advice from a lot of influential people and respected peers. Some said I should start my own nonprofit. I should be a consultant. I should write a book. I should interview experts. I should travel abroad for extended periods. I should talk to anyone and everyone starting a new venture to build a support system. I should go to events with contests. I should speak at events and conferences. I should volunteer more. I should get certified in this or that. The list of amazing ideas continues…

Yet no one ever suggested to me that I should write a blog. And while I thought about the idea of starting a blog…at the time, I was okay that no one encouraged me to start a blog. I had the impression (unfairly so; as at that time I had never even subscribed to a blog before) that blogging was either for complainers who like to rant about anything and everything about an overly specific niche, or for people who were exceedingly extroverted and wanted to be the center of attention at all times. That may sound shocking to others who regularly read blogs, and I’m sure a few social marketing strategists will shutter at those statements too. However, that was my perception at the time. I liked writing and creating content for others because I didn’t want to be at the center of everything. In all honesty, it petrified me.

My conundrum, however, was that I am extremely passionate about digital literacy initiatives and standing beside those individuals, organizations, and businesses that would really benefit from learning more about technology in order to gain more exposure, obtain better jobs, enhance their bottom line, and achieve a better quality of day-to-day experiences; just by gaining access to, and learning about trends in technology. But, I didn’t have an online space to share those ideas with others who cared about the same topics too. I thought I would be able to make an impact and contribute to the conversation without a blog, without engaging in a conversation that many people around the country and globe could access, consume, engage with, and share.

Now I realize how incredibly wrong I was. And my findings and the numbers prove it. Here are just a few eye-popping stats for businesses, organizations, and social ventures to consider.

Eye-Popping Stats About Blogging

  • Companies who blog receive 97% more links to their website. (source)
  • 81% of U.S. online consumers trust information and advice from blogs. (source)
  • On average, companies that blog receive 434% more indexed pages. (source)
  • Small businesses that blog get 126% more lead growth than those that do not blog. (source)
  • 56% of leading business bloggers are hiring additional resources in the next 12 months. (source)
  • Long-form blog posts generate 9 times more leads than short-form blog posts. (source)
  • 57% of business bloggers’ outsourced blog posts originate from non-paid guest posts.(source)

The above stats are enticing and telling. People want to engage with small businesses, organizations, and social ventures online, via blogs. While this is no longer a secret to many, it still is to some. The above stats are a powerful testament to how essential it is to continue the conversation you think is important to start, and to create a space to facilitate that conversation.

I have now officially started my blogging schedule to keep the conversation going. Technology impacts every facet of our daily lives now. And it is imperative that we don’t leave so many others out of the conversation. Technology impacts our economy (locally, nationally, and globally), how we get jobs and achieve our income levels, how we engage with political movements and ideals, our education attainment levels, the opportunities we have to start our own businesses and social ventures, and so much more. Below are five reasons why I decided to take blogging more seriously than I did in the past. Hopefully you can tailor them to your own unique situation. You may have similar reasons or different reasons, but as revealed above, the stats behind the benefits to blogging are enticing. If you want to get your brand or message across to the right group, blogging is a truly viable option.

 5 Reasons Why I Started My Blog

1- I Want to Find My Audience and Expand My Reach

While I have found a lot of individuals interested in how technology impacts society and business, I find it difficult to find local in-person events or initiatives that are solely about this topic and at once all-encompassing. I want an online space where people can come to discuss the many and diverse facets of how technology shapes our lives, work, education, businesses, and communities—no matter their locales.

2- I Want to Engage in Conversation

I have many years of experience writing academic and corporate pieces, but I want to finally be able to engage with others about topics that are important, in a conversational manner. I want there to be a back-and-forth, and interesting view points and questions from others who are from all different walks of life.

 

3- I Want to Help Facilitate the Conversations that Others are Already Having

I want to create an actual place (albeit virtual) where people can go to engage in conversations about the ways technology has influenced everyday life, as well as things that are interesting and new; such as information about a new business application, a new or free coding class or platform, a fundraiser for a social venture, a new skill that can be acquired to stand out in the job market, market research and trends, etc.

 

4- I Want to Encourage Collaboration

Whether you are a CEO of a marketing company, a college student in the humanities, a 50-year old starting a new career path, a woman learning to code, a web development expert with over 10 years of experience, a manager of a nonprofit that assists job-seekers, an immigrant who is navigating the tech space in a new country, or an entrepreneur interested in creating a new mobile app (just to name a few concrete examples)… this is a space where you can find something of value, and contribute to the discussion. In fact, the value of this space is dependent upon you being a part of this discussion.

 

5- I Want to Inspire Others

I want others to know that this conversation is indeed being had and that they do indeed have a space in this ever-changing and ever-challenging world of technology, social media, and web content. I want to create awareness. And I want to inspire others to share the resources, experiences, and wealth of knowledge they have with others.

 

You can join this conversation by following this blog. Click on the “Follow” button below this post. And if you start your own blog, please SHARE your experience!