In all honesty, how well do you fact-check your content?
Beyond proofreading for spelling and grammar errors, do you check the veracity of every claim in an article before publishing it?
Chances are you probably don’t.
A majority of content marketers never take the time to fact-check their posts – and many don’t think it’s even feasible given their strict time and budget limitations.
While that risky behavior may have been tolerated, the arrival of fake news should put an end to it.
Now that readers are more likely to question the accuracy of everything they read, content publishers of all types are taking measures to protect their credibility in this “post-truth” era.
In this post, I’ll provide a basic guide for how to get your facts straight.
“But if we’re not reporting the news, why do we have to fact-check,” you ask.
Well, there are several reasons:
First reason: Costly errors can ruin your reputation. Just as it takes only one mistake to erase a history of good deeds, a single but egregious error can cost your site’s credibility.
It takes one mistake to erase a history of good deeds … your site’s credibility, says @NChibana.
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Second reason: Humans tend to focus on the bad rather than the good, so don’t be surprised if an overlooked typo or error goes viral and then makes it into the hall of fame of most embarrassing content marketing mistakes. (Don’t believe the saying: There is such a thing as bad publicity.)
— BET (@BET) February 29, 2016
Yes, it’s Whoopi Goldberg, not Oprah – two women misidentified in 144 characters.
Third reason: You have a responsibility to your audience to fact-check everything. Just like readers make decisions based on media-supplied information, they also make decisions based on advice you give in your content.
You have a responsibility to your audience to fact-check everything, says @NChibana.
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Fourth reason: While a few readers may catch your mistake, others won’t and will share the misinformation with others. The latter scenario makes you no better than those who propagate fake news.
It happens more often than you think, just take a look at this widely cited statistic: “Women account for 85% of all consumer purchases.”
It sounds true, right? Well, it’s not. Although the figure has been cited by several reputable publications, The Wall Street Journal concludes it’s not backed by sound scientific research.
What about this one?
“We process images 60,000 times faster than text.”
Almost everyone in the visual marketing field has heard or quoted this one. But again, it’s unsubstantiated. It turns out that the original source was a 3M brochure with no reference cited.
And just like that, these two unsubstantiated claims became rule-of-thumb proof often quoted in marketing even though no one knows where they originated.
Impact of not fact-checking
Mistakes can lead to irritated clients, sources, or readers who will complain by email, call, or social media. Or worse, no one will recognize your mistake and its impact will be felt – webinar participants don’t show up because they thought it was tomorrow, your call to action is never answered because the link was incorrect, or your audience shares the content and spreads the misinformation further.
Mistakes can even lead to bigger reactions – lawsuits or boycotts, such as the reaction in Ukraine after Coca-Cola published a map of Russia that included the disputed territory of Crimea.
How Well Do You Fact-Check Your Content?
Accuracy checklist for content marketers
To make things easier for you, I’ve created the following accuracy checklist, which you can download to use.
Based on verification guidelines followed by journalists, this truth-seeking cheat sheet has been amended to include common mistakes made by marketers.
For every piece of content, review the following items (and take heed of what can happen if you don’t!):
Image source: Visme
1. Names and titles
Verify and spell-check brand names, personal names, names of institutions and job titles – and ensure that they’re spelled consistently throughout the content.
2. Dates and times
Verify days, dates, and times. If you’re including both a day of the week and a date, double check the calendar.
Verify and spell-check the names of cities, states, capitals, countries, regions, and other geographical areas. Make sure your verifying sources are up to date.
4. Emails and phone numbers
Send an email to the address (or at least check to see that it has correct domain extension) and call phone numbers to make sure they are correct.
5. Statistical or information sources
Seek the primary source even if someone else is quoted saying it. Make sure those primary sources are considered reputable within your industry. Don’t cite sources, such as Wikipedia, which can be edited by the public. Verify links taking readers to the attributing source.
Seek credible primary sources for quoted stats or information, says @NChibana.
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TIP: Don’t forget to check the people you quote or attribute information to. They may provide a title, but check that it’s accurate on the company website or verify that they are employed by that company in their LinkedIn profile or company site.
6. Statistics and figures
In addition to checking where the stats originated and ensuring that the figures are the latest available, do the math.
Check the veracity of claims using superlatives such as “the best,” “the top,” “the most,” “the first,” etc. If the statement cannot be supported with evidence, provide clear attribution. If neither can be done, delete the claim.
Make sure original quotes are in proper context so original meaning is not misconstrued. When using a third-party site for a quote, ensure that you attribute it to the original source.
9. Unconventional positions or controversial statements
Ask: “How do you know that?” Provide evidence in the form of scientific research or studies. Avoid generalizations based on anecdotes, circumstantial evidence, or personal opinion. Compare various sources. Provide various points of view, not just your own.
10. Definitions of little-known terms
If you’re unfamiliar with a word or phrase – or think others would be – verify their meaning by looking them up in the dictionary and reputable industry resources.
Resources to help fact-checking
These five free tools can help make your fact-checking easier and more efficient. You may want to bookmark them.
Snopes.com: Not sure if it’s just a rumor or fact? This myth-busting site can help you sniff out fake news and urban legends.
WhoWhatWhen: To verify who did what and when, this site provides an easy-to-look-up database of events, from 1,000 A.D. to the present.
Google Scholar: This tool allows you to sift through academic literature to track down the original source for any statistic or claim.
.@Google Scholar lets you review academic literature to verify stats or claims, says @NChibana.
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MozBar: This plug-in allows you to evaluate a site’s credibility as it shows the domain authority and backlink history.
Grammarly: If you want a little extra help to catch spelling, punctuation, or grammar mistakes, this free plug-in comes in handy. It also provides a plagiarism detector for those who are willing to pay for a premium plan.
And last, but certainly not least, your readers are one of your greatest assets when it comes to combatting inaccuracies. Constructive comments and resulting corrections are essential to the collaborative nature of the web and can serve as a self-correcting mechanism.
What did I miss or didn’t get quite right? Let us know in the comments section.
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Cover image by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo
Please note: All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).