6 Questions To Test Credibility of Content in a Social World

Everyone out there is talking about social media, the new opportunities and risks it poses, and how to best use it. In response, your peers have begun an aggressive push to figure out what the various tools, sites, and techniques can offer their business. This is a great thing, one that I’ve been cheering on since the start.

In reality, we’ve only taken baby steps toward really getting this all figured out in both a personal and business context. With so much left to learn and so many different opinions about this fast-changing area, it’s easy to get carried away with the excitement of mastering some new tricks.

“Generate content. Generate more content. Be sure it’s relevant. The eyeballs will come!”

What about the “eyeballs”? Sure, relevant content written in a compelling manner will attract attention. That should make the information sources happy. Who is looking out for the consumers of the content?

Citizen Journalism: Fact Vs. Opinion

In case you are unfamiliar with the term, Citizen Journalism involves the “public” taking an active role in researching, analyzing, summarizing, and sharing new, information, data, gossip, multimedia, etc. that other members of the public would want to consume and/or discuss. If you think about all of the social media tools available to us — bookmarking, blogging, networking, content sharing — they are geared toward exactly that means.

This sort of empowerment of voice is truly a breakthrough that the Internet has been so kind as to provide us. But how would one know when something is “true” or “correct”? Sure, there are easy ways to do this based on public opinion, but then again, does popularity really prove anything, except the fact that a writer can get and hold your attention?

It is essential that you take a critical eye toward everything you read online. Even the stuff written by the “experts” or “thought leaders”. The following is a quick 6-question guide for completing a “stink test” on anything you read online.

Do I know and trust them already?

This is the no-brainer, and the premise behind Google Caffeine. If you know someone, their intelligence level, their credibility and trustworthiness, and their ability to assimilate information, why wouldn’t you put credence into their thoughts and opinions? If they are trustworthy and dependable, you know they won’t bend the truth just to make a point. And if you know them, you likely also know what their area of specialty is, which should significantly enhance your confidence in their writings on said topic.

Whether you are a fan of Caffeine (the search logic, not the stimulant) or not, it was built on a sound assumption that I anticipate will be proven useful. Don’t just search for me based on cryptic formulas and keywords; also filter those results for the colleagues and friends with whom I’ve already established a base level of credibility.

Was it recommended to me by someone I know and trust?

Extending out one more degree away from you (even Kevin Bacon would be proud), you don’t have to necessarily know someone personally to quickly establish credibility. When a trusted contact of mine makes a recommendation, I take it at face value. If you are like most of us, you likely do the same.

Think about Twitter for a moment. They’ve taken this concept and run with it. For example…Retweets, Lists, and even Follow Friday. Those traditions are all various methods of connecting people to each other (or to each other’s content) via recommendation. They are popular for a reason, and this is it.

Are they known as a reliable source?

This is where reputation comes into play. The first two tests are the most obvious and easiest to answer. For anyone who doesn’t make it through those filters, it makes sense to then consider public opinion. Are they a well-respected thought leader, a’la Chris Brogan (Social Media), Erin Jacobs (IT and Information Security), or Seth Godin (Marketing Strategies)? Do many of their peers seem to link to them?

It is important to consider whether someone is popular because they are already in established media, or whether they were popular on their own right before going in print or on the radio/television. All the three examples above established strong personal identities on their own merit. That’s what you need to look for.

What else have they written or said?

Perhaps the person under question for you is an unknown commodity, to you, your peers, and to the general public. Don’t just assume that means their opinions are not important. If you like a piece they’ve written, take a few moments to peruse more of their work. Share some of the “eyeball” love! You just might be the person whom your peers will trust when they are evaluating the same individual’s work in the near future.

What are the top minds in the space saying?

Hmmm, so you and your peers don’t know the person, they aren’t an established thought leader or information source, and you’ve read more of their work…but you still can’t determine the difference between fact or “quack”.

Compare notes. Do a quick search on the topic under question. See what others are saying. Is this a popular opinion or a unique one? Do you agree with popular opinion or not? Perhaps the masses are still singing the same old song while this one person truly gets it! Or perhaps the writing was hammered out while under a peyote-induced haze. This is where you need to really insert some of your own rationale into the process, as in…

What does my gut tell me?

That’s right. There is no perfect system, but at the end of the day, what do you really think? Did the writing move you to change your mind about something? Is that a sensible reaction or not? This isn’t saying to blindly accept something as fact, but quite the opposite. By this point, you’ve done enough consideration of whether they are credible or not. You’ve seen what peers, experts, and popular opinion think about them or the topic. Read, analyze, draw your own conclusions, and move on. Or maybe you can just post your thoughts to a blog, citizen journalism style!


Everyone is jumping on the citizen journalism bandwagon these days. That can be a great thing, but you want to be sure to use some calculated filtering of what you read out there. This isn’t just limited to blogs and social media; be critical of the established media as well.

What approach do you use with user-generated content? Do you tend to believe everything, nothing, or something in between? Do you have a better approach to the “stink test”?

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As Founder and President of Return On Now, Tommy Landry provides the vision behind our SEO and SEM methodologies. With over 25 years of business experience and a deep understanding of modern internet marketing techniques, he spends his time providing hands-on consulting, insightful content, and engaging public speaking appearances to Online Marketers of all skill levels.
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