INNOVATE

Does Social Media Content Have Any Credibility?

High-tech innovation either works or it doesn't -- you can't fake it or dress it up. One big exception: social media content.

KlausM via Flickr

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One of the best things to come out of the high-tech revolution is the ultimate triumph of function over form. When it comes to innovation, it either works or it doesn't. It's sort of hard to fake it or dress it up.

Apple's designs may be clean and iconic, but if its products didn't function the way they do, I wouldn't buy them and neither would you. Maybe form has yet to triumph over function in the corner office, but it's certainly more of a level playing field, that's for sure.

And when it comes to determining which products to buy and how much to pay, the Internet has made that process far more transparent for consumers. We're no longer subject to the claims of a salesperson or a misleading ad campaign. We can just get online, read the reviews, and may the best product win.

Now, before we all herald the triumph of function over form, I've got to tell you, there is one glaring exception: Online content and social media.

Before the internet age, if you read a nonfiction book or an article in a publication, you could reasonably assume the writer was credentialed, either as a subject matter expert, a journalist, or a commentator. Sure, publishers were selling books and ads, but credibility mattered--a lot.

Today, the volume of content being written, produced, and disseminated online is who knows how many orders of magnitude greater than before. And so much of it is quoted, riffed on, posted, Tweeted, taken out of context, and retweeted before you read it that there's no way to know if it's got a shred of validity when it gets to your eyeballs.

And make no mistake: for many, if not most, online publishers, the only metric that matters is eyeballs.

So, if you're relying on social media or any internet content for anything important, at least try to get close to an actual subject-matter expert. And be aware that a lot of what's presented as nonfiction, journalism, or commentary may very well turn out to be pure fiction. Well-written fiction, but fiction, nevertheless.

One more thing. Don't even think about using social media metrics like "followers" or "likes" to determine the legitimacy of online content or the credibility of a particular writer. That's just plain silly. Remember, Kim Kardashian has over 17 million Twitter followers. Enough said.

Last updated: Jan 10, 2013

STEVE TOBAK | Columnist

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, an executive coach, and a former senior executive of the technology industry. He's managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a Silicon Valley-based strategy consulting firm. Contact Tobak; follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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