Title Illustrated by Fahren Feingold
When someone shares a big, out-of-nowhere story with you – say, one with surprising data or some counterintuitive trivia – what’s your first response, usually? Mine takes one of the following forms.
“Where did you see that?!” or “Where did you hear that?!” or “Who told you that?!”
Do any of those questions sound familiar? Most human beings are equipped with critical thinking skills and healthy skepticism to make it through most days, and the phenomenon of reading and hearing interesting or unknown things is no exception. As the messenger, if you you’re not finding credible sources – whether in casual conversation or while writing for publication – you might as well not even bother.
When I was working in politics, one of the more popular – and cynical – sayings that would float around campaign offices was this bit of W.C. Fields advice: “When you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull****.”
But most people can’t be fooled so easily in these days of democratized knowledge on the web. Stories can be vetted – or debunked – in seconds, through a simple Google search or by combing through readily available data.
Of course, the Internet itself isn’t exactly a utopian garden of truth and beauty, either. For every kernel of truth, there’s a cornfield of apocrypha: purveyors of lies posing as news sites, wild rumors that have us foolishly refreshing our social media feeds every five seconds, death hoaxes, Wikipedia hijackers, and good old-fashioned wrongness.
[Tweet “How do you rise above wild rumors & good old-fashioned wrongness? You find good sources.”]
So, how do you rise above this? How do you ensure your content is airtight? Beyond question, beyond reproach, unassailable?
You find good sources.
Finding Credible Sources: 3 Reliable Ways
Lately, when you surf the web, you get the sense that accuracy and facts are arbitrary. They’re not. Accountability is still valued – and it’s valued by the right people. Remember, for you – whether you’re B2C or B2B – it’s ultimately the quality of your visitor traffic that matters, not the quantity. You’re not just providing content for a few giggles and a good time. You have a goal: You’re trying to convert visitors into consumers.
Toward that end, one of the most effective tools in your toolbox is establishing trust in your content. Once a visitor – or, more to the point, a potential customer – finds out you’re producing or aggregating suspect stuff, they won’t waste their time with you. As a startup, you’re already competing with established companies. Do you really want to blow your chances with consumers by giving them substandard content?
Consider your own experience: When someone lies to you or, sorry to say, just doesn’t know what they’re talking about, are you going to rely on them for anything in the future? And when someone tells you about about deceptive practices, negligence, and slipshod work on the part of a business, are you going to patronize that business?
Conversely, if you’re continually having edifying, intellectually honest conversations with a friend, aren’t you going to seek her out time and time again to have a beer? Aren’t you going to introduce her to your other friends? Aren’t you going to ask for her help when you need it, and offer her yours? And when you hear of a business that goes the extra mile to make sure its customer is getting all of the information he needs during a transaction to make a solid decision, won’t you you give it a chance when you’re in the market for the services it offers?
Today, trust is a hot commodity. And it has always been the bedrock of research, reporting, and writing for publication.
So, how do you find good sources for your content?
Find the Experts
If you’re doing a piece on used car sales and social media, for instance, find a dealer or two and a few customers who have navigated the process. For other interviews, find authors, scientists, and thought leaders in their fields. Cross-reference their reliability. Quote them accurately and in context. Try to represent all opinions, if possible.
Keep in mind that not every source will be ready to tell you everything they know right away. Just as you want to trust them, they want to trust you. Finding common ground with them and a building a rapport will go a long way in securing their cooperation and willingness to participate in an email exchange or phone call.
Poring over studies, databases, surveys, previous reporting, search engine results, books, library reference, primary sources, statistics, and other evidence is an important step in your research and reporting.
Sometimes, it’s not in your best interests to reinvent the wheel when it comes to writing about a subject: If work is in the public domain and verifiable, you are welcome to use it for your own as long as you cite it clearly, accurately, and in good faith. Be sure to include sources that are relevant and acceptable to your audience.
Find Out for Yourself
Conduct your own experiments and test your own hypotheses. Run the reporting of others through the ringer. Run your own reporting through the ringer. Do a poll. Ask your friends. Live what you’re writing about.
Audiences love strong first-person accounts they can trust. Look no further than the popularity of memoirs for that.
At the same time, audiences don’t appreciate weak first-person accounts they doubt. Look no further than the unpopularity of memoirs for that. If you’re an authority on a subject – or can make yourself one – you can be your own source.
Finding credible sources sources requires diligence, accountability, and time. It’s worth it.
Look, writing for publication isn’t easy – we know that. But when done well, it can revitalize your web presence. Strong sourcing is crucial to strong content. Strong content is crucial to success.
Give us a call if you need some help getting there!