There he is. The pusher man that is always there, standing in the shadows, just beyond the glow of the lamppost, willing and able to feed lists to the aching jones of content junkies, via social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.
It knows where they’ve been and where they will go next.
Better than the best drug dealer, social media knows its customers. It uses algorithms and metrics. It doesn’t just know where they are. It knows where they’ve been and where they will most likely go next. It knows what its customers like. No, it knows what they need to stop the itch, make them well and settle them into a comfortable nod.
They need content. They need knowledge. They need content masquerading as knowledge. They need that fix that gives them that warm buzz, up through their veins and into their brains. It makes them believe that they are learning, that they have power, that they can succeed. They need to know that success is within their reach. The secrets are right there, at their fingertips, and it can be accessed and consumed in an instant, in the form of pointed lists.
Social media tells us to “click here.” Take a puff. The first hit is always free. We’ll be empowered and enlightened. And this will all happen without the nuisance and commitment of effort. Social media strongly suggests that we don’t need to read an entire book—or even start one, for that matter—in order to absorb the knowledge that has been imparted to us by the gurus and sages of life and business.
Topping the content with a provocative image of an alluring woman doesn’t hurt, either.
Content is delivered to us in tidy lists. Sometimes lists of 3 or 5 or even 10. Perhaps, an adventurous scribe will bestow upon us a list of 12 or more potent seeds of knowledge. And topping the content with a provocative image of an alluring woman doesn’t hurt, either.
More often than not, each bullet point will be accompanied by an abstract paragraph or two which explains in vague detail how and why the respective point is not only important to the list but important to the career and THE LIFE of the reader.
And what do these mavens of entrepreneurship and business acumen want from us? Clicks. Likes. Comments. Shares. Retweets.
CLICK! Now, we’re providing the knowledge to others in our network.
These simple actions make us part of the conversation and associate us with the knowledge contained within the post. CLICK! Now, we’re sharing. No, now we’re providing the knowledge to others in our network. They will see that we not only approve of the valuable content but perhaps we even understand it on a level beyond that of the average man or woman.
This is the world in which we live. This is how we learn. This is how we prove ourselves to others. This is how we cloak ourselves in delusion.
That being said, here are the top 5 reasons you should ignore “top 5” lists.
Top 5 Reasons You Should Ignore “Top 5” Lists:
1. Usually, content presented in “top list” format is designed to benefit the writer.
Quite often, the writers of these lists are not shy about working in references to their companies, products or services. Some writers can be pretty crafty, but others are downright shameless. I know, as the owner of ATI Graphics, Inc., a branding and web development company located in Highland Park, Illinois, how important it can be to get a good plug in an article. You know, for the SEO.
2. You are just fooling yourself into believing that you are actually learning something.
Hey, I fall for it too. I click to view a post of the “6 Ways Small Businesses Get Big” or something similarly provocative, and even though I know better, part of me hopes to learn that kernel of truth that will change everything. But, let’s just all admit that is rarely the case. It sort of makes you feel good for a moment or so, and you think that, “yeah, I can start doing that thing I just read and I can become a player.” Then, the phone rings or a client emails you looking for a project update, and then, well, whatever.
3. They are easy articles to open and read while driving.
Please, don’t do that! I don’t want to die because you’ve got a McDouble in one hand and your skimming the “4 Ways To Lose Weight While Eating What You Like” list with the other hand.
4. By repeating what you have “learned,” you may either a) perpetuate the false or misleading knowledge, or b) you may be exposed as a fraud.
Just because something is posted online—or worse, the Huffington Post website—doesn’t make it true. And, before committing to your knowledge base information delivered via the web, a little fact checking or research should be required. Anything posted on HuffPo should be substantiated by at least 3 reputable sources.
Additionally, if you don’t want to be exposed as a fraud after bloviating to others something you learned from a posted how-to list, be sure to know your subject matter so you can confidently field any follow up questions or remarks. Not really knowing what you are talking about is an excellent way to illustrate that you don’t really know what you’re talking about.
5. Nothing beats genuine book learnin’ or practical experience.
If you really want to learn something, find a course—online or in real life—and sign up. The guy leading the class, seminar or webinar will have a syllabus all ready for you that will include the articles, books and other media that will set you on the course to become truly knowledgeable. Of course, if you’re taking a seminar or webinar and the only material required to read—and be purchased by each student—has been authored by the teacher, be skeptical. This isn’t necessarily a deal-killer, but it is where you have to wonder who the course is supposed to benefit, the class or the teacher.
Gaining practical experience is right up there with book learnin’ as the best way to actually gain and retain knowledge. Sure, you can learn a lot by watching the guys on HGTV build a deck or tear down a wall, but you’ll never get that muscle memory by holding a TV remote instead of a hammer. Malcolm Gladwell’s “Ten Thousand Hours Rule” from his book, Outliers, has been disputed as of late. But, in my opinion, ten thousand hours may or may not make you an expert, but it doesn’t hurt.
Now that you’ve read my Top 5 Reasons You Should Ignore “Top 5” Lists, I implore you to take this list, and all lists, with a gigantic grain of salt. Be skeptical. Discount everything you’ve read as merely opinion. If it is a subject that intrigues you and excites your curiosity, by all means, find out more. Get the full scoop, so you can share real knowledge and/or garner the advantages of having said knowledge.
You must consider the source, and the motivation of the author.
Should you write off every “top list” as fluff or filler that pads the resume of the writer or bolsters his or her SEO ranking? No. But, you must consider the source, and the motivation of the author to have published the content.
Full disclosure: My motivations for developing and publishing this content are a passion for writing and a dislike of “top” lists.
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