health content as credible. It was
also the top reason participants
rated samples of health content as
not credible. Most participants rated
health content from Wikipedia,
for example, as not credible
because they reported not trusting
Wikipedia as a source.
Usefulness of content. If content
seems useful to people, they will be
more likely to judge it as credible.
Content usefulness was the second
most common reason our research
participants rated content as credible. This finding is significant
because past studies of Web credibility focus heavily on design cues,
not content substance [ 9].
Consistency of distinct tone. We have
noticed in the course of our project
work that if content consistently
“sounds” like the source, people will
be more likely to recognize, remember, and trust it. Just as a logo or
a color is a visual trademark of an
experience, so tone is a verbal trademark. We are in the midst of testing
to what extent tone affects people’s
perceptions of content credibility.
Geocultural and age factors. The way
people determine content credibility
isn’t exactly the same across age
and culture. For example, we found
that British participants were more
open than American participants to
a personality, such as Dr. Oz, being
a credible source of health content.
The issues above shed light on the
credibility challenges people experience with health content. Together,
these challenges pose a palpable
threat to widespread adoption of
digital health innovation. As far-reaching as the threat is, I believe
overcoming it is possible.
our attention to content. The hard
question is how? We must recognize content as an integral part
of digital health innovation. That
starts by talking about content
when we talk about health innovation. But the solution doesn’t stop
with conversation. Consider, for
a moment, an old riddle. Three
frogs were sitting on a log. One
decided to jump into the water. How
many frogs are left on the log?
You might have said two, like I did
when I first heard this riddle. The
answer is three. The frog only
decided to jump into the water. She talked
about it but didn’t jump. She paid lip
service to it but didn’t act.
When digital health innovation
is literally the difference between
existing or thriving and between liv-
ing or dying, we can’t sit like bumps
on a log. We have to act. I see three
important actions for the digital
health area that innovators can take
• Give content experts a seat at the
product strategy table. Digital health
innovation requires expertise in
content strategy, editorial strategy,
and content architecture. Bring the
people with that expertise to the
table. It’s the only way to ensure you
create content that explains the big
takeaways, points out what users
need to worry about, and empha-
sizes what exactly to do next.
• Plan content governance. Health
data requires governance to ensure
accuracy. In the same way, content
requires governance to ensure it’s
high quality, credible, and effectively doing its job. Governance for content is a system of oversight, roles,
process, guides (or documentation),
and evaluation. Without this system
in place, you are at risk for offering
content of poor quality, credibility,
and efficacy (see Figure 2).
• Test content credibility with rep-
resentative users. Much testing of
digital experiences stops at deter-
mining whether users can perform
tasks or find content. That doesn’t
tell you whether users find your
content useful, meaningful, or
trustworthy. If you’re talking about
a global market, then people in dif-
ferent markets could have different
perspectives. Test the impact of
content tone and meaning on rep-
resentative users. For example, we
developed an iterative approach to
test the impact of content tone for a
2. Holtzblatt, K. What makes things cool? Intentional
design for innovation. interactions 18, 6 (November +
December 2011), 40-47.
3. Chozick, A. As young lose interest in cars, G.M.
turns to MTV for help. New York Times; http://www.
4. Chang, T. The ‘so what’ of the quantified self.
5. Robles, P. SEOs beware: Google preps over-opti-
misation penalty. Econsultancy.com; http://econsul-
6. Retracted autism study an ‘elaborate fraud,’
British journal finds. CNN; http://www.cnn.com/2011/
HEALTH/01/05/ autism.vaccines/ index.html
8. Moseley, K.L., Freed, G.L., and Goold, S.D. Which
sources of child health advice do parents follow? Clin
Pediatr (Phila) 50, 1 (2011), 50-56.
9. Past applied studies include the series of credibility
studies by B.J. Fogg in 2001-2002 and the ongoing
e-commerce research by Nielsen Norman Group.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Colleen Jones is the principal and
chief strategist at Content
Science. She is the author of
Clout: The Art + Science of
Influential Web Content (New
September + October 2012
Turn the Credibility Threat into
an Opportunity to Thrive
Unwittingly ignoring content
causes credibility problems, so
naturally the solution is to turn
© 2012 ACM 1072-5520/12/09 $15.00