If you surf among blogs and portals and Reddit, as I do every day, you’ll often come across catchy headlines like:
“The 10 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Marketing Strategy,” or
“The 5 Best Mobile Phone Apps For Working Moms,” or
“5 Reasons Facebook Will Die”
And so on. You see them all the time. But trust me, it’s a gimmick, a trope; just create a list (always 5 or 10, it seems) and give it a scary or otherwise enticing headline.
Who wouldn’t want to know the 10 mistakes that will kill your marketing strategy? I’d want to know that--even if I wasn’t in marketing.
Let me confess. I started my career as a sportswriter. And back in the day I was as guilty as the next hack creating list articles. “The 10 Dumbest Things I’ve Heard A Coach Say,” was one of mine that created some real buzz I recall, especially among coaches I knew.
The “Top Rules” articles are the ones that always grab me. I’ll admit, I can be a sucker for them. I clip and hoard them in Evernote, just for the day when I’ll need to know “The Five Best Ways To Improve Your E-Mail Open Rate,” or some such topic about which I feel deeply insecure.
I know this is very meta, but here are my top 5 rules to use when reading “Top Rules” articles:
1) Stop if the rules are obvious. If you read “Top Five Rules For Google Marketing,” and the first rule is “Learn About Pay Per Click Advertising,” you can skip the next four, trust me. These articles are just the most simple, obvious ideas about a particular subject.
They are likely written by someone trying to build their reputation as a self-ordained expert. They need to blog every other day, and every other morning they just run out of things to say. Another problem with self-evident articles is that they’re just repeating conventional wisdom. Got no time for that.
2) Check out the author before reading. Usually at the bottom of the post is a blurb about the writer. Okay, who am I reading? Where do these authors work? Have they written books? Are they faculty at known universities? What gives them cred?
I trust the head of customer service at an airline to tell me about how to handle the top five customer service complaints—not someone who “writes and speaks frequently about customer service.”
3) Is this real reporting or just pontification? A good reporter cites real world examples, either from personal experience or research. For my blog posts I often call or exchange email interviewing people who are actually solving a problem.
If all you’re getting is the writer’s opinion I would move on. (This rule is also kind of meta, since I know I’m pontificating here, but please stick around.)
4) Stop if the writer oviously thinks they're smarter than you. One category of “top” blog posts are those written by people deliberately ripping up a subject. (“The Ten Worst Things About SXSW ” or “Five Mistakes Every CMO Makes”) These are almost always authored by people trying to build themselves up as the smartest expert in the room. Because if they know what’s wrong, who’s being stupid, or what no one else can see, by implication they are better than you and me. My mother told me about people like this when I was in junior high school. Move on.
5) Hey,do you really need to know this? Ask yourself: “will I be better off knowing something about this, or is there another, better use of my time? For example take me. I’ll admit I’m a movie junkie. Around the time of the Oscars I get always get sucked into articles like “The Five Biggest Nomination Mistakes,” or even “The Ten Worst Dresses At The Oscars.” (Really embarrassed here. I haven’t worn a formal gown in ages.) Stop and think! There are often better, more enjoyable things you could be doing.
Follow these five simple rules and you’ll avoid lazy, self-promoting, pontificating rippers writing about stuff you don’t really need to know—and perhaps occasionally you might find a few rules worth reading about.
Trust me, I’m an expert.
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