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Do you make these critical thinking mistakes in your blog writing?

August 29, 2012 5 comments
bloggers who aspire to be thought leaders need to apply critical thinking to their writing

A flawed thought process leads to faulty conclusions in your blog writing, which hurts your credibility.

It’s so easy to set up a blog today that anybody with a computer can become a publisher. A blog is an ideal platform for sharing your knowledge and establishing yourself as a thought leader.

However, there is more to blogging than jotting down your points-of-view, controversial opinions or innovative ideas and waiting for your brilliance to be acknowledged. In reality, it takes more than knowledge and intelligence to make a valid argument in writing. If your argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, it hurts your credibility.

How do smart people draw fuzzy or erroneous conclusions when they write, making them look less than thought leader-like? It’s usually from a lack of applied critical thinking.

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is not determined by intelligence or deep knowledge. Rather, it is a thought process that filters out natural emotional-psychological-sociological biases that get in the way of reaching rational conclusions.

If you’re like me, it has been a while since studying this in philosophy and logic class. But in the interest of more cogent writing and improving your stature as a thought leader, it is worth reviewing some of the key principles. You do want to be more awesome, don’t you?

There are two fundamental ways to evaluate an argument. (By argument, I mean the reasons or premises used to support your conclusion). You can look at the structure of the argument, and you can look at the content to determine its validity.

STRUCTURE

The classic structure of an argument in the critical thinking process calls for presenting two or more valid premises in support of a conclusion. The following example helps to show how faulty structure can lead to a false conclusion:

  1. All humans are mammals (true premise)
  2. All dogs are mammals (true premise)
  3. All humans are dogs (false conclusion)

CONTENT

When the content or facts of a premise are misleading or in the wrong context, an argument with valid structure can appear to reach a reasonable but faulty conclusion:

  1. Geological events produce rock (true premise)
  2. Rock is a type of music (true premise)
  3. Geological events produce music (false conclusion)

Intentional or not, using invalid arguments in the content you write can lead you to false conclusions that tarnish your thought leadership credibility.

Types of faulty content

Language or meaning is the most fundamental component of your argument. How you use factual information, direct statements, indirect metaphors or emotion-laden words will affect the validity of your argument. There are a number of ways your content can lead to weak or invalid conclusions in your writing, including:

  • Grammatical context. Wording in your argument that is grammatically close to valid premises, but distracts the reader into thinking an erroneous conclusion is valid.
  • Ambiguity. Using ambiguous language in either the premise or conclusion.
  • Relevance. Using premises that are logically irrelevant to your conclusion.
  • Presumption. Stating a premise that already assumes your conclusion to be true.
  • Weakness. The logical connection between your premise and conclusion is weak.

This infographic illustrates some of the most common types of flawed arguments found in persuasive writing.

list of invalid rhetorical arguments for blog writers

How to avoid critical thinking mistakes in your writing

Here are 12 tips for identifying weak links in your reasoning and turning them into stronger arguments:

  • Use solid premises that are true and relevant.
  • Keep your focus on using only premises that support your conclusion.
  • Learn to recognize distinctions between correlation and cause.
  • Look for faulty assumptions behind false analogies.
  • Identify fixed versus variable probabilities behind events.
  • Make sure your comparisons are apples-to-apples.
  • Evaluate the logic behind your asserted chains of events.
  • Think independently from conventional wisdom of the crowd or popular opinion.
  • Distinguish appeals to authority from logic and fact.
  • Look for potential bias from your sources.
  • Examine either/or assumptions.
  • Be aware of your own beliefs and emotional attachments to your viewpoint.

Applied critical thinking is an important process for effectively writing about your area of expertise. It will give you greater confidence in presenting your ideas with the authority and credibility of a thought leader. There is much more that can be said on this subject than I can cover in one post. I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments below.

I’d like to leave you with this funny clip from a favorite movie of mine, Office Space: the scene where Tom explains how he used his mind to come up with an idea about jumping to conclusions.

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On social media, some people deserve to be ignored

Web users on social media are looking for content that solves a problem or answers a question, not content that talks about you.

Web and social media users are looking for content that solves a problem or answers a question, not content that talks about you.

The marketplace has spoken: some people deserve to be ignored on the social Web.

I’m referring to the recent introduction of two new apps designed for the sole purpose of blocking or punishing social media users who annoy their friends and followers.

Twitter Doghouse allows you to give certain Twitter users a time-out for various social infractions. If they tweet too frequently, are overly self-promotional or otherwise annoying, you can notify them they are blocked from your Twitter stream for a defined period of time until they clean up their act.

Another app called Unbaby.me allows Facebook users to swap out baby pictures of over-sharing new parents with a default picture on their wall. Some might opt to replace Junior’s mug with a cat, motorcycle or other image of their choosing.

These may sound like extreme reactions, but content marketers should take notice. Self indulgence is not appreciated or rewarded on social media. At best, it is ignored. Why do so many marketers miss this?

I saw an interview of Brian Clark of CopyBlogger, which offers one answer. He said he was glad to have come into online marketing without formal marketing experience. His reason is that he didn’t have to unlearn the principles that no longer work for the internet. He was referring to the interruptive communication approach of traditional media, which fails to interact or engage person-to-person.

Most marketers today – like me – learned their trade prior to the emergence of the internet. The focus then was not to interact with customers. Rather, it was on promoting their products, brands and companies. Customers were “targeted,” “acquired,” “managed,” and controlled. It is an outbound-oriented, we-to-you communication mode no longer suitable for social business. Online customers ignore these messages. If marketers don’t unlearn the old rules, they deserve to be ignored.

Faber College T-shirt: knowledge is goodThe curse of knowledge

It is not easy to unlearn what you already know. In their book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath call this the curse of knowledge. The curse lies in the difficulty of imagining what it is like to NOT know what you’ve learned. This makes it difficult to share information because you can’t readily re-create the audience state-of-mind. When you consider how critical that is to your search engine and content marketing success, change is imperative.

Breaking the curse: customer personas

It is not news that marketers need to adapt to new rules of online marketing. David Meerman Scott’s book The New Rules of Marketing and PR is now in its third edition. Yet, we still struggle with using broadcast techniques in new media channels, creating low-value, self-promoting content and with establishing meaningful engagement with customers. In this situation, there is an empathy gap. One way to close the gap – to re-create an audience state-of-mind – is to create customer personas that inform SEO and content strategies.

In The New Rules of Marketing and PR, Adele Revella of the Buyer Persona Institute, defines them this way, “A buyer persona is a short biography of the typical customer, not just a job description but a person description. The buyer persona profile gives you a chance to truly empathize with target buyers, to step out of your role as someone who wants to promote a product and see, through your buyers’ eyes the circumstances that drive their decision process.”

Creating personas

It’s likely you already have a lot of customer data from which you can use to build persona profiles of your most desirable customers. You can start with demographics and job characteristics such as:

  • Title and time in position
  • Nature of their work and responsibilities
  • Decision-making role
  • Job satisfaction, concerns and interests related to your brand
  • Motivations
  • Media and channel preferences

In his New Rules book, David Meerman Scott outlines a series of questions to answer about customers that help flesh out a buyer persona profile:

  1. What are their goals and aspirations?
  2. What are their problems?
  3. What media do they use to find answers?
  4. What words and phrases do they use to describe their business?
  5. What are their daily activities around business challenges?
  6. What are the current solutions they use?

Another dimension to profiling buyer personas can be found in psychographic analysis, which goes deeper into customer personalities, values, attitudes and mindsets. Marty Weintraub of aimClear has been doing fascinating work using psychographic targeting in social media, which he covers in depth in his blog. Some of the lifestyle dimensions you may want to add to your customer persona profile are listed in the diagram below.

lifestyle dimensions for buyer personas

As you compile the data you will see trends emerge that enable you to group customers into logical segments, such as by business function or media preferences. By now you will have enough information to create a narrative biography of 5-7 typical customers. Some organizations add a photo and name to the profiles to make the personas more real and personal.

Sources for capturing persona data

Gathering information for your customer profiles is not as difficult as it may seem. There are several sources you can tap:

  • Surveys and interviews of customers, prospects and frontline employees
  • Website and social media analytics
  • Conversion data
  • Keyword research
  • Demographics firms
  • Blog and social media engagement metrics
  • Social listening and monitoring

Putting personas to use

Originally personas were developed for software and web user interface design. For the marketer there are many other strategic benefits, such as:

  1. Aiding keyword research
  2. Content planning for websites, social media and company blog topics
  3. Focused messaging of news and press releases, video and podcasts
  4. Email marketing and e-newsletter publishing
  5. Lead management: generating and nurturing leads for the marketing funnel
  6. Customer service content
  7. Targeting paid search advertising
  8. Conversion rate optimization, landing pages and calls-to-action

Developing buyer personas is no longer the academic exercise once dismissed by some. It is a key success factor in creating content that won’t be ignored on the Web.

Tell me what you think. What data are you using for identifying customer personas? Are you using them in other strategic ways?

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