On Taking Advice From Experts, Data And More

by Jason Falls |

On Saturday at BlogWorld & New Media Expo in Los Angeles, I gave a talk called, “This is all such bullshit.” Admittedly, it was a clever title intended to separate my keynote from others and attract a good crowd, but the point of the hour was to encourage business owners, marketers and bloggers to take responsibility for the advice the use from people like me. In a way, I was calling B.S. on myself in one regard.

The three outstanding points I made all coalesced against one main philosophy: You can’t always trust experts, data, the media or other sources of information. With the advent of self-publishing in the 1980s and its online cousin blogging in the 1990s and 2000s, anyone can produce media. The difference is that 20 years ago that media was typically vetted by editors and producers hoping to abide by noble practices of journalism and deliver fair and balanced information to a puppy-dog like public audience.

Technology now allows any random person to publish what they want, but we the consumer haven’t adjusted. We’re still apt to pant and chase the stick without properly vetting the information we receive. Sure, we can choose which news sources to trust, but even today’s news sources, in their thirst for ratings, are seldom fair and balanced. Why have we not caught up?

You’ll see from my slides that I talked about listening to social media advice, reading statistics disseminated by software companies and then even listening to conventional wisdom. The main points:

  • Social media (or any other type of expert) advice is only good if you apply it to your situation. Put it in context. Best practices aren’t always best practices for you, your audience, your environment.
  • Statistics you see on infographics or blog posts from companies trying to get you to download white papers and register for their services are not to be confused with fact. Statistics are a starting point for asking questions, not answers.
  • Conventional wisdom, like the fact that printing this blog post hurts the environment, isn’t always wisdom. North American paper companies plant four times as many trees as they harvest and, as such, are some of the most environmentally friendly and reforestation-driven companies in the world. Don’t let one side of the aisle tell you the other is bad without investigating the claims.

All of my questions of experts, statistics, the media and more may come across as sounding bombastic and even aggressive. This is probably just because using the exclamatory and admittedly crude label of “bullshit” brings with it those connotations.

But understand that I use it as an interjection more than an attitude. What my questions are intended to be are thoughtful inquiries to ensure we’re thinking the topics through well enough to discern information and put it to good use. My hope is that I’m criticizing ideas, not people, though the inability for most people to interpret tone in the written word prevents some from seeing that.

The intention is to offer civil discourse around the advice, statistics, insights and attitudes often given us as fact or rules. Without asking questions, exploring the validity of such information and applying our own context to it, we fail ourselves and our audience.

Asking better questions is a fine way to ensure that we’re continually improving as business owners, marketers and people. Asking better questions can change the world. An example I used Saturday was to encourage parents, rather than asking, “What did you learn in school today?” to instead offer this question:

“What would you like to learn tonight?”

It changes the game.

So what questions will you ask today? How much deeper will you go in your understanding of the advice you hear, statistics you analyze or attitudes you’re subjected to? The comments, as always, are yours.

About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).