Fake News Is A Thing Because We Are Lazy

I belong to a local Facebook group that deals in matters pertaining to the small town where I live.

On a given day, you’re just as likely to see an update about the new restaurant opening in town as you are feedback about the new roundabout in front of the high school.

Most of the time, it’s a useful source of news, even if some users go overboard when it comes to sharing information. Since the users are very active, updates pop up in my feed quite often, so I skim them to stay up-to-date.

But like anything on Facebook, there are downsides to letting humans be the ultimate judges of what should and should not be shared.

Last week, somebody posted an update — complete with BREAKING NEWS chyron — that Sargento cheese was being recalled. According to the article, the cheese might kill your entire family if you eat it.

That’s right…your entire family.

Anybody with half of a brain knew this recall was fake news. A five-second Google search would’ve told you the same.

But it’s a lot easier to click the share button than it is to take the time to do actual research.

In their rush to be the first to share this important news, they got it totally wrong, and ended up looking like a fool for being so easily duped.

Sadly, millions of people are duped by fake news on a daily basis. It’s been a year since the election, and we are still coming to grips with how easily foreign agents manipulated a lot of people by paying for ads on Facebook.

At the core of this deception is our intrinsic belief that our beliefs are correct. We don’t have to actually take the time to research potentially dubious news because our belief system is strong and true.

That could not be more wrong.

Confirmation bias is a thing, and it’s only going to get worse.

In the case of Sargento Cheese, it was easy to debunk the claim because it’s just cheese, and the person who posted the content was probably glad they can eat the cheese in their refrigerator, even if they did feel a bit embarrassed to be called out.

But there are far worse consequences to fake news if we continue to be lazy.

I’ve long though universities and colleges will have to change their curriculum in the future to teach incoming freshman how to spot “fake news”, and the 2016 election will be the case study they refer to.

Well, it looks like some universities are starting to put the focus on education so we can be less easily duped.

We might not see the fruits of their labor immediately, but it’s a step toward truthfulness.

Time Is Our Most Precious Commodity

If you have been creeping in my LinkedIn profile — you know who you are — you may have noticed I recently started my own company, Yelram Media.

This cleverly-named entity was born out of a desire and necessity.

But if I’m being completely honest, the idea was always percolating in the back of my brain, just waiting to be unleashed.

Sometimes, getting let go from you full-time job is all the impetus you need to do what you’ve always wanted to do. At least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself since this became a reality.

Anyway, in discussions with potential clients about how we can partner together, one word keeps popping up when we talk:

Time.

I’ve talked about how time is fleeting on this blog before, but the point of this post is somewhat different.

Business owners simple don’t have enough time in their day to do everything they want.

That’s the refrain that continues to emerge: “I want to better market my business and spend more time creating content my potential customers will appreciate, but I have to run my business.”

I get it. The priority is, and always will be, making money to stay afloat. Pay the mortgage. Put food on the table.

This isn’t breaking news to anyone, but understanding where your skills can translate to help a business succeed is vitally important in this day and age of marketing.

I was listening to the excellent The Why And The Buy podcast last night, and my good friend Jeff Bajorek (who hosts it with Christie Walters) made the truthful claim that everyone claims to be a digital marketer nowadays.

Figuring out how you can differentiate yourself from others is key, and that often comes down to identifying your strengths and being able to clearly state to potential clients how your offerings will save them time.

When you can package that with a proven ability to bring in new customers, well, now you’re just ahead of the curve.

Time Is Fleeting

It has been theorized that, as we get older, time speeds up.

Whether it’s because we’re introduced to less new experiences than we did when we were kids, or our biological clocks have slowed down, the jury’s still out on why this is a phenomenon.

But no one can argue the speeding up of time is something all of us experience as we age.

Last week, over a span of five days, I celebrated my oldest daughter’s tenth birthday and attended my 20-year high school reunion.

If there was ever a time where I felt the crushing weight of the passage of time, this was it.

Not only do gray hairs begin to sprout when I watch how mature my daughter has become, but it’s jarring as hell to see a group of people I haven’t seen in 20 years.

I met most of them when I was around my daughter’s age, and now we’re getting together to celebrate being out of high school for two decades.

In short: I’ve never felt older.

Seeing old classmates — some balder, a few grayer — after so long was completely different, while being exactly the same, if that makes any sense.

We fell back into old habits and gravitated toward the same group of people we always did, as if we were sitting in the cafeteria having lunch together.

The only difference is that there was some alcohol involved, and a lot of us knew our kids would wake us up early the next morning, seemingly indifferent to the fact that mom and dad stayed up way past their bedtime.

When I tried to explain to my kids the next morning how fast these past 20 years have flown by, their brains were incapable of comprehending.

To them, a six-hour school day may as well be six days. To them, time drags.

But not to us. This was a time to marvel at how quickly time flies.

This post, however, is not to send you into a depression about your impending demise.

Rather, I want to encourage you to take advantage of your time, and this stands as a good reminder to do exactly that while we are still relatively young.

Spend time with people who matter.

Sneak in an extra round of golf.

Start your own business.

Speak your mind.

For God’s sake do something. If this past weekend taught me anything, it’s that time is going to fly no matter what you do, so get as much enjoyment out of this life as possible.

How To Train Your Writers

Let’s try a thought experiment.

Imagine, for a moment, you are a fresh college graduate at your first PR agency job. You have worked there for a few months and, so far, everything is going well.

You’ve landed a few media placements on behalf of your client, you are killing it at media monitoring, and your weekly call recaps are must-read material for account team members.

One morning, you arrive at the office to find you have been assigned to write an article on the topic of, say, autonomous vehicles on behalf of your client’s chief technology officer. You need to write it in the “voice” of the executive, yet, you’ve never heard the CTO speak.

So you open a blank Word document, start and re-start the piece 27 times, then cry because you are a failure.

Sound familiar?

If you haven’t experienced the crippling agony of struggling to write something in the voice of an executive who has decades of experience on the very topic you are banging your head about, then you’ve never really lived.

The sad part? It happens a lot, usually under pressure to get a final draft in front of the client.

But when that new writer struggles to put together a good first draft, the agency is forced to bring in a more seasoned writer to quickly clean it up and ship an acceptable version off to the client to meet the deadline.

You might be thinking “Hey, what’s wrong with that? The client is happy and that’s all that matters.”

The problem, dear reader, is that we are bound to live in this never-ending cycle of turning over writing projects to the better writers at the last minute. If the only practice junior staffers get is a first draft that gets completely rewritten, what’s the point in having them write that draft in the first place?

Not to mention the fact that those senior writers have deadlines to meet and projects to handle. If we have to bring them in at the last minute on a regular basis, it throws off everyone’s schedule.

It’s pointless.

This type of activity isn’t sustainable.

To be an effective agency, you need the right mix of personnel who are all-star writers, as well as the future stars who are ready to break into the big leagues.

To do this, there are a few steps that can be taken to get started down the path of grooming the next generation.

  1. Practice, Practice Practice – I know everyone is busy, what with billable hours and client demands. But nobody ever got better at something by not practicing. Consider building writing practice into your team’s time, even if you force them to mark it as non-billable. As content creation and marketing becomes a more integral part of PR, we will need more writers who can cut it, not less. If they have put in the practice time, rest assured they’ll produce better content.
  2. Plan, Plan, Plan – There isn’t really a good reason to rush to deliver a piece to the client at the last minute. Putting together a simple editorial calendar for client content is one way to ensure those who need practice have ample time to write the first draft, and those who need to review have ample time to review and provide feedback.

The need for good writing is only going to increase, especially as the journalism industry continues to shrink.

The ability for a company to tell its own story becomes more attractive, so it’s in your agency’s best interest to retain a stable of solid writers who can grasp the intricacies of a client’s business and put it out there so it’s easy to understand, all while doing it in an efficient manner.

Not only does it save time and energy, but great writing and content creation can be a boon for your agency’s business, so it makes a lot of sense to have people on the team who are great at it.

I’ve Been A Parent For A Decade

My oldest daughter turned ten yesterday.

I know you’re not supposed to share the age of your kids or your home address in a blog post or a picture of that keg stand you did in college before Facebook was a thing, but having a kid reach double-digits makes me feel old.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago I was walking her back-and-forth down the hallway at our old house to soothe her, barely a month after she was born. I had to memorize the creaks in the wood floor so I wouldn’t step on one as she fell back asleep.

Now she retreats to her bedroom after school and FaceTimes her friends to see if they want to come over and stare at devices.

Not that I’m complaining about the way kids view technology. (Who do you think I am, Mitch Albom?) I consider myself lucky to have a daughter who still gives me the time of day and laughs at me in the morning when I do my best Miranda Sings impression to wake her up.

There’s no avoiding it, so you might as well embrace it. In fact, I applaud her school district for introducing Chromebooks for the kids to use on a regular basis. Start ’em young, I say.

Wait, did I say she’s young? That’s false. She’s older than I would like her to be, which means I’m older than I would like to be.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My wife and I can run up to the coffee shop to grab some java and we don’t have to load both kids in the car.

My daughter is also perfectly able to FaceTime her friends and rendezvous at the park to hang out. I don’t need to shuttle them anywhere, as long as it’s within bike-riding distance.

Those are the perks of having an older kid.

While I will always miss looking at her tiny face while wrapped her up in a onesie, having an older kid is pretty fun, too.

It’s just a different kind of fun.

Now, talk to me again in five years when the boys start to show up.