Fact is, facts aren’t our thing

This post is one of the last pieces that form part of Blog Secret Santa 2013. Meghan H wrote a gift post, but due to either naughtiness or forgetfulness, didn’t receive a gift from their nominated giver. Instead, here’s an elf looking back at what happened. All the posts from the whole project, including one by Meghan, are listed on Santa’s blog roll.


In the aftermath of 2013’s Blog Secret Santa fun, I’ve been reading through all the posts – as I write, 36 are online – and picking out a few themes to talk about. For this post I decided to look at the sorts of facts that interest content strategists. What are the basic truths that we work from when we blog?

I’m looking for rock-solid, undeniable facts. Capital-T Truth. The stuff that you need to agree on before a debate begins. You know the saying about how people are entitled to their own opinions, but not their owns facts? Yeah, that’s the stuff I’m looking for.

It’s not pretty, people. If our Secret Santa posts are anything to go by, we’re not really into facts at all. If anything, we avoid them.

But it ain’t all bad. Here’s a nice meaty one, with a reference.

 Society saves seven dollars for each dollar spent on early education, or so the United Way has told us. (From A too-serious post on ROI)

Actually, maybe that’s a bit debatable. The United Way has a barrow to push when it comes to education, and the ROI of schools isn’t really the easiest thing to put a number on. But it’s a start. Let’s move on to On giving:

 There’s a psychological explanation for our profound connection to giving. Research has found that not only has generosity fared well in our evolution because, “at the ultimate level, it is a high-return cooperative strategy,” but that giving may actually be at the heart of what makes us human and an essential ingredient to our happiness.

Research! Science! Yes! Sort of! That phrase “may actually” is a bit of a bet-hedger. Still, this is pretty facty.

In truth, though, there was only one gift post with a very solid basis in verifiable, solid fact. As a professional community, it ought to worry us that it wasn’t written by a content strategist. We might also want to judge the quality and importance of the facts, but frankly we probably haven’t earned that right. Here’s

A musical interlude from Secret Santa

 Lady Gaga’s Art Pop was released November 6. Its first single, “Applause” was released this summer, the same time as Katy Perry’sPrism and Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz. The sales have been considered a flop.

 In contrast, Beyonce dropped it big time last Friday (with this Instagram, to be precise). Her album was available only through iTunes for the first week, and includes 15 songs and 17 videos.

Dudes, that’s it. Just 3 posts out of 36 start with a fact. The others worked off:

We’re very good at writing about ourselves, and at story-telling. We’re great with advice. We’re always ready to help with a case study or a model of how things often work. Give us a definitional argument and we’ll jump right in. Examples and metaphors are tasty things, too. We can use those to make our opinions sound bigger than they really are. But facts? Verifiable, solid truths? For some reason, they’re not for us. Maybe we’re too busy building our own orthodoxy to assess it too closely.

Ok, I know what you’re thinking*. You’re thinking something like, “Shut up, Elf, this is blogging. It’s about the personal stuff and the little things and the stories we want to tell. Take your sciencey, journalistic crap elsewhere.”

And that’s a fair point, if you can prove it.

So, anyway, maybe 2014 can be our year of getting our facts straight. If we know what we agree on, and we can back those things up, the disagreements will be more fun. At least, that’s my opinion. See what I did there?

Merry belated Christmas, everyone!

*This sentence is not a fact


  1. Hey Meghan, I think this is a fair (and funny!) critique. The Blog Secret Santa posts were pretty fluffy, mine in particular. I wrote it with an eye toward humor and entertainment, and while I thought it was engaging, perhaps I failed on both counts. 🙂

    Even so, I think there’s more to the content of these Blog Secret Santa posts than just the notion that content strategists are somehow adverse to facts. The busy time of year, the lack of attribution (although I included attribution in my post), the nature of the post itself (a guest post for someone who it’s likely you don’t know), or even the uncertainty over who the audience would be for the post you wrote… I could go on with the complications and constraints that this challenge posed for participants.

    All of these conspire to create a context of simplicity. Light-heartedness. Quick work, maybe, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. A focus on voice over (perhaps) substance, though I think that substance can come in forms other than fact. Most posts also lacked visuals, though I don’t think we’d make the argument that content strategists are somehow against non-text media.

    Looking across the industry, I think there are great examples of content strategists using facts with attribution. My own work on web site performance (http://www.slideshare.net/jcolman/seo-site-speed-and-battlestar-galactica-searchfest-2012-11735155) and web audits (http://www.slideshare.net/jcolman/whats-the-value-of-our-content) is filled with facts and data points. But those were created under different contexts that allowed for (and even demanded) research and analysis. Blog Secret Santa did not.

    All that said, I think you’re hitting on something really important: for content strategists, perhaps data and facts are not our *native* areas of expertise, empowerment, or excitement. And that’s an interesting idea to me, because I’ve been making the argument that practitioners in our industry must become data-literate (http://www.slideshare.net/jcolman/data-sets-you-free-confab-2013)… but what do we lost by not being data-natives? By being as comfortable with data, statistics, modeling, and math as our partners in marketing or engineering?

    That’s a challenging and important question, I think. Would love to see someone take a shot at answering it.


    1. Thanks for the comment! I think there’s a few different arguments to be made here. In my personal role, it’s important that I understand data and have the ability to not only look at it objectively, but also be able to present it and explain it to others. However, in my ability to do this, I take the burden off of others to do it, too, and avoiding a kind of data analysis paralysis which I think is hurting a lot of orgs right now (they’re screaming for more and more data, but don’t know what to do with it).


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