Last week, Michael Jackson died. I happened to be on Twitter (follow me at http://twitter.com/ereleases) and saw the rumors unfold. A Google search and Google News search yielded nothing … yet. TMZ broke the story, being the first “official” news outlet to confirm the rumors. Then the floodgates opened … but at a rate measured in blocks of minutes and hours. It took a while for the reputable media to catch up. On Twitter the news unfolded in real time. It was amazing. How people get their news is changing. Yes, Twitter is a rumor mill. Yes, Twitter has found itself publishing false news stories, like the death of celebrities who were very much alive (Jeff Goldblum, Harrison Ford, etc.).
Authorize.Net Crashes and Burns (or Vice-Versa)
You can protect yourself from some of these rumors. Today, Authorize.Net (our credit card processor) died. A fire at a datacenter sent the the website and processing of credit cards down for hours (we still are encountering errors although the company’s site is now up). A Google News search showed nothing when we first noticed that we were unable to process orders, However, a Twitter search yielded relief that we were not alone: http://twitter.com/#search?q=authorize I noticed two Twitter accounts speaking for the company: http://twitter.com/AuthorizeNet and http://twitter.com/authorizedotnet.
Verify Your Source
I suspect http://twitter.com/authorizedotnet is not a legitimate representative. The image for this user is the default image. There is no history of communication beyond a couple of hours, which told me the account may have been created today. That’s a small red flag, but a red flag nonetheless. The number of followers is just 28, which appears small for a company that has more than 200,000 merchants. Checking out http://twitter.com/AuthorizeNet I notice it has a real logo (which means little but is not a red flag) and has 2,205 followers. A red flag remains that this user again only shows a history of posts going back just a couple of hours . Of the two, my research tells me this user may be legitimate. I would still question anything over the top that either user posted but I feel a little comfortable with one, despite some reservations.
Use of Social Media Establishes Credibility
The more a user invests in their social marketing efforts (through postings, tweets, etc.), the more established they will become. Does it mean they can’t be wrong or erroneously pass along bad information? No. Checking your facts and performing due diligence is still needed. However, you can weed out some noise but looking at the messenger (not Twitter itself but the actual user spreading the news).
Panning for Gold
I found some real lessons on Twitter as it applies to the news cycle. For truly breaking news, social media can be a powerful force. A news outlet that must filter lots of content through an editorial process can never compete with a string of words on a cellphone or computer. However, social media faces massive constraints when it comes to legitimacy and fleshing out fact from rumor (or even lies and scams). Therein lies the beauty and ugliness of social media. It’s unfiltered and unrefined. It’s also brilliant, exciting, and just a little bit scary.
This article is written by Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.