The Information that Shapes Our Ideas

How do you really know if online experts are giving you bad advice? On this cast, we talk about an area of confusion that comes from conflicting or bad information we often come across online by the place we least expect: trusted experts.

Show notes:

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Full Transcription

Hi I’m Tom Litchfield, Coming up on this broadcast…

  • A techie “secret” project for 2016; and,
  • How do you really know if online experts are giving you bad advice?

It’s the end of the year! And I have some valuable information for you on today’s cast that will help going into 2016.

But first, I want to welcome yet another new client.

Tom Schanley is actor, writer and producer who you’d likely recognize if you’re a fan of CSI or Graceland.  That was his voice from CBS’s NCIS you heard at the start of the show.

Tom has been in featured films such as “Fever Pitch,” directed by the legendary Richard Brooks, “Red Rock West”, “Courage Under Fire,” starring Denzel Washington, “Conspiracy Theory,” with Mel Gibson, and “Get the Gringo” which also starred Mel Gibson.

He’s had appearances and reoccurring roles on “Dexter”, “Criminal Minds”, “Without a Trace”, “The CSI franchises”, “The Forgotten” and this season’s “Graceland” as Cash Windgate (love that name).

I don’t know about you, but I think we are in a golden age of TV. The quality of shows the past few years with Fargo, Breaking Bad and even going back to Lost, is better than the movies in my opinion.

Anyway, Tom’s publicists, Lisa Jey Davis, a.k.a. Miss Cheevious, came to me a few weeks ago asking if I can give his site a facelift. I converted his site to WordPress, found a great theme he loves that showcases his past and current projects.

For fun, check out his movie and tv clips on this site (his “reel” as they say in the biz). It’s at tomschanley.com, and I’ll be sure to have a link in the show notes.

OK, if you’ve been listening to the show (as you should be!), you know I talk a lot about WordPress, because that’s what I do. I’m a WordPress developer. But as I mentioned during the last episode, 2015 has been a transition year for me.

I am moving in the direction of helping my clients with marketing their business online, as the demand for my skills for development work on has been declining.

Some clients hire me (and this goes for my peers as well—not just me) thinking I am coding new features for their site. That’s not really what I’ve been doing the past couple years (and I don’t lead anyone to think that). But really, I’m creating solutions by leveraging tools and service that already exist.

Occasionally, I do write code to make the pieces fit, but the heavy lifting is usually done for me.

As a result, my solutions are done faster, are more reliable and more cost effective for my clients. It also means I’m going less hourly work than in the past which frees me up to help my clients in other areas, such as marketing.

So to help my clients listing to this, for this cast, I want to talk about an area of confusion that comes from conflicting or bad information they come across online.

How do you really know if the expert advice you’re listening to on podcasts or reading in blogs and books will help you or hurt you? Because honestly, I see a lot of misinformed advice being circulated online.

Clients come to me all the time with their exciting ideas and plans for campaigns and their websites. They ask me about social media, SEO content marketing, all based on the latest info they’ve heard or read.

They get their information from “expert internet marketing” podcasts, blogs, books, Facebook and LinkedIn groups.

A lot of times, I question some of the things they ask me to do with their site. Sometimes they either didn’t understand what they heard or just flat out got bad advice.

And sometimes when I make a suggestion, I’m met with “Oh, I heard that was bad!”

It can frustrating for me when trying to help people, but it can also be sad.

SO here are tips you can use to help glean useful, actionable information from the stuff you come across online.

The first thing you need to know is that most information we get is influenced by a phenomenon called “confirmation bias.”

According to Google, confirmation bias is “a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.”

Confirmation bias basically distorts information. But it usually happens unintentionally, it’s simply human nature and we all do it.

Our opinions are shaped by our experiences, what we observe and understand, what we like and dislike. The result is we may unintentionally pass on information that is biased or inaccurate.

We can be misinformed because of confirmation bias but also affects our own openness to accurate information when presented.

Here’s a quick example of confirmation bias: A smoker who thinks that smoking is harmless because his great-grandmother lived until she was 99 years old and she smoked every day.

I’m sure you’ve heard similar logic by many of your friends and maybe even your relatives.

So understand that, the internet marketing experts out there are providing information through their lens, how they see the world based through their day-to-day experience.

When it comes to business, the problem with that is that markets and niches vary greatly making them extremely difficult to compare to each other.

One of my clients is a successful home builder in Silicon Valley. Can an internet marketing guru, whose success online comes from being a super-affiliate for LeadPages, relate to him? Of course not.

There are so many variables from market to market. What customers expect and what they respond to will vary. The competition is different; the number of competitors is different. The culture is different. The position of the person in the marketplace, to name just a few.

Consider the source of your information and the market that person is in. Does his or her advice really apply to your market?

The first and biggest tip for you is knowing IF the advice you receive applies to your market or niche. So you first need a deep understanding of your marketplace and audience.

For example, some of the most prevalent advice in internet marketing that I hear almost every day, is that you MUST build an email list and practice “list building” to be successful. You probably hear this all the time.

Let me be clear on something to avoid confusion. We are talking about “list building” right now, not necessarily email marketing. List building is focusing on strategies and tactics to collect emails from people so you can market to them.

The marketing part is email marketing; the collecting of emails is list building. See the difference? The idea behind listing building is that bigger list = bigger profit.

Ok, now that we got that out of the way, committing your business to list building can be a big investment in time and money, with a lot of expensive tools for building landing pages, auto-responder services, split testing, stats analysis, not to mention campaigns that can cost money. Then you need to put in the time to learn all the tools and writing and testing emails, subject lines, etc.

This is no joke, I saw a website that offers to build a complete email marketing sales funnel for $250,000. A quarter of a million dollars, can you believe that?

List building can pay off big time, that’s for sure. But list building may not work in your market, at least enough to justify the time and money commitment. You might be better off spending your time and money on other marketing activities.

There are many markets where most customers will not want to part with their email address no matter what the offer. I’m finding that I avoid giving out my email address like the plague. When I’m faced with an opt-in offer, here’s kinda what goes on in my head as I calculate the costs of a “free” offer…

“Okay, opting in to this means yet another email added to my inbox that I have read the subject line, evaluate if I should open or delete. Perhaps I will have to deal with this nuisance daily. If I delete it without opening it, do I really need to continue receiving emails from this company? So now when I get the first message I’ll need to remember to click the unsubscribe link, which will obtrusively pop-up a web page in my browser that I will have to close after confirming I don’t want any more emails. Then I have to go back to my inbox and delete that massage. Nah, too much work, it’s not worth with this ebook they’re giving away.”

This is the growing trend in list building: people are becoming less inclined to give away their address. And the proponents of list building will say that’s fine: it’s a numbers game and there are still lots of folks who are carefree with their email address.

My point is not that list building doesn’t work: there are niches where list building works like gangbusters and probably will for years to come. And there are others that it may have little or no impact on business, even when doing everything “right.” It’s far from the sure thing as promised by the experts.

In case you’re curious, in my own business, I do maintain an email list, but I do not focus on list building tactics. I use my email list to occasionally communicate with my members. But I do not rely on it for new business; I do other things that are more effective for me.

What should you do, test list building?

But again, back to my point, if you know your niche intimately, you probably already know if it’ gonna work or not. But if you’re unsure, go ahead and test it. Most of the expensive email services for auto-responders, landing page builders, etc. usually have free trial periods.

Ok, so that was a longwinded example of how guru advice can be wrong.

The place I hear confirmation bias the most is on podcasts. The second most frequent place I run into confirmation bias is in LinkedIn and Facebook Groups.

Here are a few “expert” answers given to those seeking advice I’ve seen in Facebook and in LinkedIn groups.

Question asked to a group: “Where can I get images for my blog posts?”

Expert answer: “Use Google Images.”

In case you don’t know, this is really, really bad advice. Using Google Images on your site may get you in trouble!

In this case I had to set this person straight. She got defensive, “Well, I do it all the time and never had a problem…”

Ok, I guess if I steal candy from 7-11 and never get caught that’s nothing wrong with that either?

Here’s another: “Don’t use Hootsuite/Buffer/Jetpack/etc. to post on Facebook. Facebook will penalize your post!”

This is an example of outdated information. At one time maybe this was good advice. In today’s pay-to-play Facebook, it doesn’t really matter.

And that’s another form of misinformation that can bite you: People passing along outdated information.

Here’s another: “You’re going to get penalized by Google.” —This was told to me during a conversation about duplicate content. Good thing I didn’t listen. Not only was I not penalized, the site in question outranked the competition for years.

I love online groups and the focused interaction. But groups can lead to echo chambers, where they reinforce and recycle ideas so strongly that they reject anything that doesn’t fit their chosen world view.

In the case where I called out someone for giving bad advice, no one backed me up. I suspect because the person I called out had been in the group a lot longer than me and was more established. But it was also probably because no one knew any better, perhaps spending a little too much time getting their information from groups.

So be especially careful with online groups.

But be very aware of confirmation bias as you listen to podcasts (even this one!), and as you read blogs and books, and participate in online groups.

You might be wondering, who I should be listening to then? The best people to listen to are ones who are successful in your niche.

If you can’t find anyone—good for you! Congratulations! That means you are the expert in your niche!

But to continue developing your skills and knowledge, you should look for experts who have a range of different backgrounds or better yet, serve a diverse group of clients. Even still, the bigger their audience, the more generalized the advice and suggestions are going to be.

It’s important to remember, that there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution for any strategy. With anything that sounds good to your ears, apply critical thinking and ask questions.

Crosscheck information. Search online for other authorities talking about the same topic. Search for newer information. This is especially helpful in uncovering outdated stuff.

The best advice I can give on this subject goes back to knowing your market, knowing your niche, knowing your audience intimately. When you hear or read a new idea, you’ll have a much better grip on how well it will work in your business and if you should give it a try.

As we wind down the year, I am finalizing my plans for 2016. Included in those plans are:

  • A new podcast show schedule; and,
  • Something much more exciting in the works.

First the new schedule.

I’ve really enjoyed producing this first season of the Techie Secrets podcast. It was a short season, but the feedback was great. So for next season, starting in March 2016, I’ve committed myself to doing 24 new episodes.

So here’s the upcoming schedule: After the holiday break, in January I’ll wrap up season 1 with the release of episode 7, then I’m taking February off as I’ll be on vaca. And March will mark the launch of season 2 of Techie Secrets.

Now, you’re going to want make sure you catch the last episode in season one, due out in January, as I will have some big news.

Here’s a hint:

A couple years back, I did a course on Udemy callend Social Media Automation with WordPress. It was well received and got good reviews.

Given that the course is now a few years old, students have asked me to do an updated version. But I could never commit to developing a new version because my project schedule didn’t allow it.

Well, thanks to my new focus of helping clients in their marketing, and my decision to reduce the amount of coding work I do (which can take up most of my time), I am considering creating an all new course based on the latest technology.

Right now I am doing testing with some select clients on some of the methods I hope to include in the new course.

If those tests yield positive results, I will move forward on the course. It could be much more than just a course—I don’t want to say any more than that.

Just make sure you catch the last episode of season 1, in January after the holiday break for the big news!

That’s it for Techie Secrets this time around.

If you have questions about anything we talked about on the show, please find me on Twitter for continued conversation on these topics and more. Simply search Twitter for @ tomlitchfield or search for hashtag TechieSecretsPodcast.

I will be back in January after the break, so I want to take this opportunity to wish you and your family happy holidays!

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