Tom Webster, writing and speaking

Trust And Our Addiction To Link Shortening

Added on by Tom Webster.

When I publish this blog post, a plugin will dutifully tweet you all that I've written something new here on Brandsavant. You'll get a tweet with the title of the post, and some kind of shortened link. Later, I'll check my tracking dashboard, and see how many of you clicked on the URL. I'm partial to Argyle Social, but you might use, Hootsuite, even Google. In any case, you probably do the same thing, sometimes without even knowing it, all over the social web (not just on Twitter.) It's an ego thing, I admit. There isn't much of a business reason for me to track this post, for instance. I like to see how I did. I bet you do, too. I surely didn't need to, though. Yet I find myself looking at my link tracking dashboard every day, glancing over my "hits" and "misses," the links you clicked on, and the links you didn't. When you don't click, I feel bad. When you do, I get a little charge. Same for you, maybe?

I wonder, though, if we are all tracking a little bit too much. When I share a URL with you, there are three components: the headline, my own credibility, and of course the link itself. Sometimes I write a catchy headline, and a post "does well." Most of the time, I write a pretty average headline, and the clicks it generates are based largely on my own credibility - whoever clicked, probably did so because they trusted me to share something of value.

What's interesting about our addiction to URL shortening, and all of the helpful social media clients we use to share our links that do the shortening for us, is that the third component - the link itself - no longer carries any inherent trust. If I share a link with you about the oil spill, and the link is clearly from or the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the link itself is a visible clue that I'm passing along something potentially more trustworthy than if I passed along a link from The actual link is a component of trust - one more clue that you should (or shouldn't) click on something I share. But, because we are all addicted to tracking (and even if we aren't, all the social media clients we use assume we are), all of our links look the same:

Yes, I know that some Twitter clients will extrapolate the original link from a shortened one and show the full reference. I also know that most people don't use these clients, and anyway we are using shortened links everywhere, not just on Twitter. I am also aware that Twitter's new link shortening service will also show the original link, but again - if we are addicted to tracking - that link will also be a link. The real question is, can we give up our addiction to tracking, even for pithy little posts like this one, so that our status updates aren't continual streams of dri.vl?

I'm going to continue using link shorteners to track some things for business reasons, but maybe lay off them a bit for all the personal/fun/purely social stuff I share. I guess where I am going with this is that if you see that the URL I am sharing is from a trustworthy source to you, then you don't have to solely rely on my credibility to decide whether or not you click that link. And if you do click that link, and you do find it useful, then maybe you trust me a little bit more. But if you didn't click on the link because its source was obscured (and thus not a trust component), have I lost a tiny opportunity to build trust with you for the next time I want to share something? What do you think?

Finally, if I'm being honest, I posted this on Twitter with a trackable link. I hope you clicked - it makes me feel good. No, I'm not an addict. Yes, I can quit anytime. This is the last one, I promise.