Back in the late 90s, in the consulting world, value based management was all the rage. I was working at Deloitte & Touche in Poland at the time, and their book on the subject, The Value Enterprise, was required reading back then.
I had been doing financial analysis and forecasting for a while by that time, being something of a “spreadsheet jock.” One observation in the book stood out for me.
Before the invention of the spreadsheet (they noted in the book), financial modeling was the occupation of just a few highly trained professionals. The models built were few and far between, and expensive to build, but when they were built, they were extraordinarily good. You could rely on them.
Then the spreadsheet became commonplace, and financial models flourished. Suddenly, anyone could be a financial modeler.
And the quality of the average financial model went WAY down. They were easy to have and build, but you couldn’t always rely on what they purported to represent.
Part of the problem was that many in the beginning reacted to a presentation in a spreadsheet as though it had the credibility of those earlier, more complex and well thought out financial models. It took some time for it to sink in that they could just put any old number in there, and that a formula somewhere down the line could be extremely flawed.
And that's exactly what's happening on the internet these days.
So What About Content?
“Once Upon a Time,” and for decades, the ability to publish news and information was held by just a few people. The requirement for physical capital to print newspapers and magazines prevented most people from publishing their own periodical.
But many, amongst those few who could publish, had a higher standard of publishing. There were fact checkers, there were journalistic rules about what you could write about as fact, what you couldn’t.
So when the news came out in the paper, on radio, or on television, there was a sense that you could rely on it. The New York Times and the Washington Post, as one example sought to be leaders in accurate reporting. You can point to many others around the world.
Enter the internet. Now everybody's a publisher. But just like financial modeling in Excel, the quality of the information published has gone WAY down. Rather than facts, we have nothing but bullshit. We are bombarded with a fire hose of information, it's very hard to tell how much of it is reliable. Just like those Lotus and then Excel spreadsheets that the newly minted “financial modeler” built and presented in a meeting about funding.
This has caused a race to the bottom in terms of the quality of online content, where once respected news organizations now try to beat the bullshitters at their own game, and publish reports without checking them.
I should note parenthetically that not all news organizations prior to the Internet were angelic truth seekers. The Yellow Journalism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries provided its share of sensationalism and material embellishment of the stories of the day to “get eyeballs.”
But they had their counterparts who sought to brand themselves as accurate reporters of what happened, and because of the barriers to entry, they had less competition for attention, unlike the “fire hose” of publishers of all sorts typing out quips on Twitter.
Money Goes “Out of Circulation”; Minnesota a “Socialist Miracle”
I was thinking about this the other day after a friend posted an image on Facebook, something of an infographic, describing how rich people take money “out of circulation,” therefore it is important for the socialist state to tax the rich to get the money “back in circulation,” where good, hardworking, honest people can use it to buy goods and services (the meme was from a socialist organization).
Of course, this is simply incorrect. Most wealthy people invest their money for a return, and it gets put to work elsewhere.
But poof, someone suddenly puts up a little drawing with a meme, and people start discussing it as fact, in true "confirmation bias" tradition.
In the middle of the thread somebody posted an article by Cory Doctorow, proclaiming Minnesota’s deployment of socialist policies created an "economic miracle." The claims started immediately: “See? It works, why are people so opposed to socialism?” or something like that. Of course I did a quick search on Google, finding many articles challenging that conclusion and giving an alternate view.
Nevertheless, it gets shared, liked, reposted, and in the midst of the fire hose of information, taken as fact, as gospel as truth, whatever.
Unfortunately, many of us who still remember the days of the newspaper had come to expect the reliability of the printed word from those newspapers of record. Whenever we see something written (now more likely on a website or social media platform) in a format to which we have become accustomed, we have an inclination to believe it.
We can draw a simple rule from this: The introduction of a technology that gives many more people access to a business, that was once inaccessible to them because of the cost of entering it, immediately drops the average quality of whatever products that technology produces. But many people still interpret it with reference to the higher quality products of old.
Hardly a revelation, but worthwhile to hold continually before you as you seek to become an internet marketer.
Needed: More and Better Critical Thinking
So what does all this mean for a web marketer?
There is no question that the innovation, automation, and simplification of tasks resulting from these technologies is a good thing. But there is always a price to pay, and the low quality of the information we receive through the various media is big part of it.
So it’s time to sharpen our critical thinking faculties. We need to encourage our readers to sharpen their critical thinking along the way.
So start out the morning with an affirmation that you will be skeptical of the information that you hear, and to think critically about the information that you hear. It doesn’t matter whether it is in the political domain, the domain of economics, whatever.
Think, please. Read what you receive on the internet critically. Read other opposing views. Act with care. Carefully think through what you believe to be true. And then state it. Do research before you accept something as a fact. Don’t be afraid of putting out what you think to be true, even if you think it will be subject to criticism.
It will be hard to do, and it will take some time, and you might have to move slower and more methodically than some of our peers and competitors. But you will be a better content creator for it.
You might have to take some shots from critics, and listen to what they have to say with a critical ear, and maybe think about whether what they say is correct. But the solid information you put out there will make you a better web marketer.
One of my favorite videos about how to do this is this one from a talk by Jordan Peterson.
Dr. Peterson pulls it all together with this quote from the video: “Nothing brings a better world into being than a stated truth.”
Go out and do it. Be the credible source.