Who Do You Trust? 10 Things to Consider About Vetting in the Age of Social Media

Social Media Platforms

Fifteen minutes after the first Tweet stating that the US military had found and killed Osama Bin Laden, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer was struggling on air. Blitzer could only react to what he (and everyone else) was reading on Twitter. For an excruciating amount of time Blitzer repeatedly explained that they couldn’t verify the reports. At last he confirmed what everyone had known for 20 minutes, that indeed Bin Laden had been killed. Social media has changed how we get our news. Today it’s fair to say that Twitter breaks news and television covers it.

Social media however is just that. It’s social. While news organizations use social media, citizen “journalists” and “reporters” fill the vast majority of Twitter streams and Facebook posts. Is Jon Bon Jovi dead or alive? When did Joe Paterno die? What exactly did Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum say at the latest stop on the Republican presidential primary tour?

Vetting the accuracy of the information on social media is challenging to say the least. Company and personal brands can be enhanced and extended via social media. They can also be destroyed. We will be addressing these topics at our panel discussion at the SXSW Conference: “Vetting in the Age of Social Media. Who Do You Trust?” If you’re at SXSW this year, please join us. In the interim here are 10 things to consider about vetting in the age of social:

  1. Brand Matters. Ironically the rise of social media has driven a renewed interest in branded content. People and brands you can trust and that you rely on for your news and perspective. Regardless of the level of importance of the news, people want to trust their sources.
  2. Know the Difference Between Gossip and News. The water cooler is digital today. Don’t overreact to fun, gossipy information that is passed around on social networks and hold it to the same standards as news.
  3. Beware of False Prophets. In any gold rush there are legions of consultants and advisers that appear, providing expert analysis and advice on the trends shaping the market. Social media is rife with them. They will give you social media advice for a fee about developing trust, creating followers, curating content and generating “likes” and “recommendations”. Some of this advice can be valuable. Much of it is not.
  4. Trust is built over time and erased in a moment in the digital world. The “trust wars” tend to take place in public with commenters taking sides.
  5. Trust has become tiered. Do you trust the author, the brand and transparent relationships to the topic covered? All three need to be aligned and reinforce one another.
  6. Brand to Brandividual. Trust can follow the trusted source and leave the brand behind
  7. The Shift from Search to Social. What you read on the issue is increasingly built on following trusted links from social networks, not SEO based discovery.
  8. Beware Anonymous. Automated and autonomous commenting on articles has been over-gamed to have little meaning.
  9. Community Engagement. Writers have to work as hard at building social communities as they do at creating content. They need to engage the audience throughout the story’s life.
  10. The Role of Video. Video is emerging as the favored trusted source. You can see an interview taking place which is hard to fake as opposed to text which is fungible.

The impact of social media has been profound for journalists, media companies and consumers alike. How to leverage the extraordinary power of social media and at the same time vet the who, what, where, when and why continues to be a challenge however. Let me know your thoughts on vetting in the age of social.

  • not telling

    Re – the role of video. If it’s wide angle, live, and not a 10 second bite of something, then it’s okay. What was that adage about how on the internet no one knows if you’re a dog?

  • Anonymous

    Hi Tony – great post; really looking forward to your panel at SXSW. You raise a lot of important points. As it relates to breaking news, yes, Twitter as forever changed that model. And, with products like this becoming available – Twitter Tool Will Help Journalists Break News [VIDEO] http://on.mash.to/xCOYdl – it will certainly help Wolf when it comes to confirming sources, LOL. Brands do matter – but may matter less for millennials, who are 2x as likely to rely on UGC from friends or “like minded strangers” for product recommendations/purchase. And YES – video is huge! (Funny how are kids new that 3 years ago, :)