This weekend in my office with a half dozen colleagues, we toiled away on an (academic) assignment due tonight. When you spend 11 hours in one day around one table, on something that drives you mad – conversation is a aplenty on things not related to what we were doing. And when there as no conversation, procrastination was aplenty with Facebook being the prime culprit amongst all of us.
An interesting scenario happened, which made me revisit something I have long wondered. One of the girls asked how does Facebook make money, and I went on a rant about their $200 million Microsoft deal, how they are heading towards an IPO, and other random facts I just happen to know. They all looked at me stunned, in the sense how could I possibly know such things, and I replied I read a lot – I read a lot of blogs.
“…but how do you know that stuff you are reading is accurate?” with reference to that $200 million that I don’t even know where I read that. The funny thing about the question, is that it’s smart and stupid at the same time. The answer seems too obvious – but it isn’t: how DO I know those facts I stated where true?
Why I bring this up, is because this is an issue I have long tried to come to grips with – what makes information credible? How do you know when you read something on the internet, that it is reliable? The answer is we don’t. Sort of.
This “new media” world isn’t the reason why we have this apparent problem: information credibility has long been an issue, first realised by the citizens of western democracy after the Great War when they recognised newspapers could no longer be taken as fact (due to the propaganda efforts). So its been a problem long before computers and hypertext had even been invented – it’s only that with us being in an Information Age, the quality of information has been under higher scrutiny with its abundance.
How do we know what makes something reliable? Is it some gee-whiz Google algorithm? Perhaps it’s the wisdom of the crowds? Maybe – but there is something else even more powerful that I have to thank Scott Karp for making me realise this, back in the days when he was starting out as a blogger: it’s all about branding.
Why makes an article about the New York Times, more credible than one written by a random student newspaper rag? What makes a high profile author, more credible in what they say, than a random nobody who puts their hand up in a town hall meeting? And going back to the question my colleague asked earlier – how do I know the blogs I am reading have any credibility – over say, something I read in an established newspaper such The Economist?
Simple: branding establishes information credibility. And a brand – for any type of entity be it an individual journalist or a news organisation – is dependent on recognition by others. There could be absolutely no credibility in your information (like Wikipedia) and yet you could have a brand that by default establishes credibility – just like how people regularly cite Wikipedia as a source now, despite knowing it’s inherently uncredible.
The power of branding is that no matter how uncredible you are – your brand will be enough to make anything you say, incredible.