Shocking, simple titles get shared.  Simple is more memorable.  Things that are repeated are more memorable.  It’s scary what gets shared on Facebook, retweeted on Twitter, etc. We’ve all seen it happen – catchy quotes or pictures, shocking stories race around the world in seconds only to end up on the urban legend site snopes.com.

On June 4, the satirical news site the Science Post published a block of “lorem ipsum” text under a frightening headline: “Study: 70% of Facebook users only read the headline of science stories before commenting.”

Nearly 46,000 people shared the post, some of them quite earnestly — an inadvertent example, perhaps, of life imitating comedy.

Now, as if it needed further proof, the satirical headline’s been validated once again: According to a new study by computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute, 59 percent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked: In other words, most people appear to retweet news without ever reading it.  (Click to view the whole article.)

But what about leadership myths and “feel good” quotes.  My personal favorite is the one about the CFO asking “What if we train people and they leave?” and the CEO answering with the question “What if we don’t and they stay?”  I see this one ad nauseam on LinkedIn. This conversation didn’t happen and it’s not going to convince any CFOs or CEOs to invest in training.  Only hard evidence demonstrating that employees will be more productive will or should convince these guys.  It’s easier for HR professionals and consultants to share these trite quotes than it is to do the actual work to uncover interventions with scientific support.  Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer in his book, Leadership BS, said:

To build a science of leadership, you need reliable data. To learn from others’ success, you need to know what those others did. The best learning, simply put, comes from accurate and comprehensive data, either qualitative or quantitative. But the leadership business is filled with fables. In autobiographical or semiautobiographical works and speeches, in the cases and authorized biographies leaders help bring into existence, and in their prescriptions for leadership, leaders describe what they want to believe about themselves and the world and, more importantly and strategically, what they would like others to believe about them.The stories leaders tell or have others tell about themselves on their behalf are primarily designed to create an attractive legacy. Sometimes such accounts are, to put it delicately, incomplete. Because these tales are designed to build an image and a reputation, they do not constitute qualitative data from which to learn. In fact, they aren’t data at all, any more than advertising is data or evidence. There are many examples of this phenomenon.  Here are some.  (Click here to see them.)

 

Be careful about what you share. Be even more careful about what you believe.