Truth is the cry of all, but the game of few. – George Berkeley
There’s a lot of knowledge available for free on the web. “Experts” of every stripe are leaping out of every corner, telling people what to do, insisting that their way is the only way to do it, claiming they know the real truth about business or medicine or law.
The problem is, most of them are wrong. As Berkeley says, they’re all crying out that they tell the truth, but few of them actually bother to put in the effort to really do it.
Now, it’s not a crime to be wrong. But if you have a loyal following of readers who hang on your every word, who believe in what you’re saying, who you know will take your words and immediately put them to use as though they were a new Gospel, then you have a responsibility to those readers to do everything you can to play the game of truth.
Listening to Experts is Expensive
When new business owners believe faulty information they find on the web, it costs them a great deal. Money, clients, time – it can even ruin them entirely and send them scuttling back to their day jobs.
But why would they doubt you? A new freelancer hears that this guy is an expert. You should go check out his website. So he goes to the website and lo and behold, this expert claims he knows everything about freelancing. So our guy listens attentively. The guy writes with confidence and authority. Our guy takes his advice, and turns around and applies it to his business.
Our guy isn’t alone. You’ve done it yourself – in fact, it’s human nature. I would know; I majored in Psychology in University. I’ve read textbook after textbook on human behaviour and consumer behaviour, perception and influence, and they all say the same thing: we believe others when they sound authoritative.
So when I see someone come out and make a false statement that I know isn’t accurate, I can’t help but get a little angry at that “expert”.
That “expert”’s readers are trying to improve their business. They’re working hard, they’re trying their damnest to make it successful and bring in clients. They trusted this person to be the expert he or she claims to be, and they put their business in his or her hands by taking the words on faith.
This “expert” is abusing his readers’ trust.
Case in point: Like before Trust
“Liking comes before trusting, not the other way around. Your clients must like you before they will trust you.”
I overheard that on Twitter the other day, and it’s a statement I disagree with. A client must like you? Like before trust?
Most people buy what they need or want. They don’t have to like the person they’re buying from. Many people don’t even care. People buy from people they don’t like every day. They buy from complete strangers, from faceless websites, from stores they’ve never been into before, even from people they despise.
Just because they want.
Is trust important to sales? Of course. Does it come after being liked? Not necessarily. Trust matters insomuch that you trust you will receive what you are promised. People won’t pull out any money and give it to you if they don’t believe that they aren’t going to receive what they expect to receive. No matter how much they like you.
And yeah, they might trust you to deliver because they believe you’re a good guy. And yeah, you might have more sales if lots of people like you. But that’s the long way around.
Let’s say some new guy with a little just-started business hears this piece of advice from an “expert”. The expert says nothing is more important than being liked. Sales will follow if people like you. Every business owner should put all his energy into social media and making sure people like him.
So off our naïve little business owner goes. He buys courses in how to use social media because he thinks clients must like him. He spends lots of time on Twitter and Facebook. He puts a ton of energy into convincing people he’s a great guy.
Meanwhile, he’s neglecting other aspects of his business because the expert implied they weren’t as important.
And the “expert” was wrong.
Check Your Facts Before You State Them
If you’re on the web and part of what you do is providing advice to other people, you have a responsibility to make sure that advice is based in sound facts. If you want to say that you, personally, have found social media to be the most valuable way to get new clients, and that you, personally, have found that people who like you trust you more, then go for it.
But that’s not what’s happening. Bloggers, business owners, authorities and other providers are making absolute statements, as if their advice applies to everyone, everywhere – without verifying the truth.
That’s just irresponsible.
Journalists have it way tougher than “experts” on the net. If journalists write an article and state something, they have to make doubly – triply – sure that it’s a fact and that it isn’t anything else. When quoting people, it has to be exact. It has to be credited back to the source, too, so that no one gets in trouble over it.
They have to check their facts.
Just because you play the “expert” doesn’t mean it isn’t irresponsible to put out unverified statements as though they were facts. It’s destructive to so many people who put their faith in you as an authority in your field. These people put their dreams in your hands every day they take your advice.
Tell them what you think. Tell them your experiences. Tell them what your opinion is on various subjects. You can do all of that and not cause any damage.
But if you’re going to state that your opinion is unequivocally, absolutely factual, then you had better make damned sure you’re right.
Because if you don’t, you’re not just irresponsible. You’re dangerous.