In the social media age, being right is more important than being first

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accuracy speed bulls eye

Speed is important, but it is most important to hit the bulls eye on accuracy.

Thanks to social media, information travels faster than ever. I know this, because it’s my job to chase down that information nearly every day. While social media is another great way to garner news tips from the public and reputable sources, like any other piece of information, it needs to be verified.

Why is this? Sometimes the tips turn out to be correct, sometimes they do not. A member of the public may post on our Facebook page that police are responding in their neighborhood, but it may just be a routine traffic stop. Unofficial sources with the fire department may tweet us about a structure fire, but we need to verify that information with dispatch and the public information officer.

Like Justin said in lecture, social media doesn’t take away the need for journalist to fact-check, it heightens it. How often have we seen a celebrity death hoax make the rounds on Twitter only to have the person be alive and well (like Jon Bon Jovi in 2011)? People can make things up, doctor photos and rewrite articles all the time, which is why it is more important to be right than be first.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s GREAT to be the first with a breaking news story. But if the story turns out to be wrong, your news organization has lost the trust of your readers/viewers. Justin asked in lecture if the public is more understanding of news organizations putting incorrect information out due to the fast speed with which it moves. I would have to say no, not really, at least in my experience. People still expect accurate information with proper spelling, grammar and punctuation. Otherwise, they’re going to go somewhere else.

But what happens if you did get verified information from police and that information later turns out to be wrong, like when several media organizations identified the wrong Lanza brother as the Sandy Hook shooting suspect in December 2012? When something like this happens, you have to make it right as soon as possible. Huffington Post reported that BuzzFeed took down their article identifying the wrong person. Every decision must be made on a case-by-case basis, but ethically, I think this is OK because they probably didn’t want other people who came across their initial article to make the same mistake.

At news organizations I’ve worked at, we would try to avoid deleting a story, as this creates a dead link if someone tries to view the story later. If the correction was relatively minor, we would make it and save the story. If the correction was major, we would put a text correction in the story. Only in extreme circumstances would we delete a story, and this decision had to be blessed by a manager.

Bottom line: It is a journalist’s job to do everything we can to make sure we’re right AND first, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of losing our viewers’ trust.

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A matter of trust: How to establish it (or break it) on social media

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trust

Ouch, this is very true.

Trust is key, not just on social media but also in several other facets of life. Overall, I agree with Steve Rayson’s formula for social media trust presented in lecture:

Trust = Authority x Helpfulness x Intimacy x Reliability/Self-Promotion

But rather than talk about the factors I agree with, I would like to talk about two large pieces that need to be added to the equation.

Time. A source/brand/individual needs to become an established part of the conversation before I can trust them. I’m not going to automatically trust Joe Blow who just joined Twitter yesterday and has no profile picture. But if Joe Blow keeps putting out quality content day after day, year after year, he’s going to gain a following. And that takes time.

Accuracy (and a dash of honesty). Some may argue that this goes along with reliability; however, a source could be reliably inaccurate. Whether you’re talking about a news organization or a company, putting accurate information on social media is very important. When inaccurate information makes its way on to a source’s social media page, the information needs to be corrected as soon as possible (this is where the honesty comes in – own up to the fact you made a mistake). It is probably best to follow the advice put forth in Twitter’s Terms and Conditions: “think before you tweet.” Consistently putting out inaccurate information will definitely lead to a loss of trust.

With these two factors in mind, here is what my revamped formula social media trust would look like:

Trust = (Authority x Helpfulness x Intimacy x Reliability) x (Time2 x Accuracy2) – Self-Promotionx

Here’s my reasoning behind the formula: I think time put into social media and accuracy when using social media are extra-important factors, so I weighted them more heavily (by making them squared) in the formula.

Also, instead of dividing the amount of self-promotion an entity does, I subtracted it from trust. Let’s be honest: Our organization can have the best of intentions, but one of the main reasons we are all on social media is to promote ourselves on some level. Yet there are ways to promote oneself without being overt, so that is why I made it possible to multiply self-promotion to the x power.

I’m no math whiz, but without trust, love cannot blossom, many say. And don’t you want people to love your personal/professional brand? So don’t give people a reason not to trust you!