Information is the heart of the new economy. In an era of pervasive media, information both fuels and satisfies our personal and societal need to create, collaborate and curate. It drives decisions across all aspects of our lives, from personal to political, cultural and business. It provides us with the information we need to both market to others and make purchase decisions of our own.
When information is accurate, we have the ability to make the right decisions in an efficient, satisfying and frictionless manner. But if information is questionable, unverifiable or even unintentionally misleading, our decisions themselves become difficult or risky.
“If information is the core of the new economy,
it’s trust that gives information its true value”
Information is only as useful, or valuable, as the trust that defines it. More than just an issue of accuracy, trust in information is derived from a wide list of variables, including the source (including who has ‘liked’ it or shared it) and the structure, completeness, timeliness and relevancy of the information. Even accurate information may not be the right information to inform a decision. It’s all about quality and context.
HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH
There is no shortage of information available today, whether it is in the form of big data, that captures our movements, actions and decisions, or content that allows us to share knowledge, opinions and perspectives.
- Facebook users create over 1.6 billion status updates per month, sharing over 30 billion pieces of content, including web links, news stories, pics, etc. (KissMetrics)
- Over 500 new websites and nearly 350 new blog posts are published every minute of every day (VisualNews)
- There are over 400 million tweets per day (Mashable)
- The top 5 brands on Twitter generate content that is retweeted over 40,000 times per day (TrackSocial)
But consider this: “fake” accounts, potentially generating content that is meaningless or even manipulative, are rampant throughout social networks (an estimated 20 million on Twitter alone – PRWeek). These accounts may be harmless but they can create a false perception of influence or “group” sentiment – especially when their presence obscures good, meaningful content.
THE PROBLEM WITH ‘WRONG’ CONTENT
Verifying a social account isn’t fake doesn’t necessarily mean the information shared is relevant. A recent hashtag search for “#NFL” revealed hundreds of hits on various social platforms (see below). While the majority of results related to the NFL in some manner, the breadth of content returned by the query was too wide and inconsistent, and inconsistency degrades trust.
While some of the posts netted in this social search appear relevant to the NFL and upcoming team/player activities (the expected result), one of the posts featured a parody video of NFL player’s golf swings (including a player recently arrested on suspicion of murder) while another featured a college girl posting a selfie video – both tagged #NFL. None of these posts were deceitful or malicious, and they all have independent value. But if a consumer were looking for content relevant to NFL activities (reasonable for a #NFL tag) this peripheral content could easily become a distraction and degrade the value of the core content (I admit I watched the golf video several times before looking at any core NFL links).
“A lack of contextual relevancy directly impacts perceived value”
Information, or content, that doesn’t fit contextual expectations can serve as a distraction, adding time and often frustration to both the discovery and consumption processes. Even if accurate, a lack of relevancy in information directly impacts perceived reliability and trust in the overall user experience – the ‘weakest link’ syndrome in action (imagine the distraction of this feed scrolling up a fan site in the middle of an NFL game).
Contextual relevancy is not a small issue, but nailing it can magnify the ability for others to trust, and value, information – a point not lost on Google, Bing and now Facebook as they all seek to find a way to make their search results more compelling and actionable.
TRUST FROM THE GROUND UP
Trust is the cornerstone around which value is attached to information. There are many ways that a data or information resource (content provider) can enable trust with information consumers. Communities can help build transferable trust through 1:1 social interaction. The user experience can be enhanced to make discovery faster or more rewarding. Administrative and site behavior can be designed to be engaging and aligned with consumer expectations. But without trust in information and content – its accuracy, consistency, transparency, timeliness and context-based relevance – these enablers cannot take hold.
What’s the value of information? It depends on the perspective and needs of the consumer. But information that cannot be trusted is often worth nothing, while information that embodies trust can be priceless.
Fred McClimans is a Principal at the Intelligist Group, providing business and social content advisory and consulting services. You can connect with Fred at http://www.fredmcclimans.com and on Twitter @fredmcclimans.