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When is it okay to “just Google it?”

I’ll guess you either thought the following, or heard the following, at least once in the past week: “Just Google it.” And, that’s generally a good way to use the web to find the answer to whatever you’re wondering. But is it always the best first step?

A few years ago, a close family member was diagnosed with a serious illness. The doctor who was coordinating the family member’s care counseled that we shouldn’t go home and “just Google it.” She said we’d run into all sorts of crackpot cures and misleading advice, mixed up with credible information, and gave us a short list of associations that would have the background we needed.

This advice has followed me to my work life. Working in marketing and communications, my colleagues and I are frequently online doing research to get up to speed on an industry we serve. Using the advice the medical doctor gave me, instead of searching on a topic, I’ll see if I can find an association that represents that industry. Law or lawyers? American or state bar associations, zeroing in on practice area. Cheese? National or state dairy councils, with an extra search on gouda producers. There’s an association for everything.

Now, an association will have an advocacy role in the industry it represents, but a close read of the website can help sort hype from facts. And, if I want quick response, I’ll call the association office and ask their advice. Staffers are knowledgeable about the industries they serve, and they’re often happy to refer me to a magazine editor or an officer of the group for more detailed information.

So, “Just Google it” if you’re looking for the lyrics to “America the Beautiful.” But, Google-er beware when it’s solid information you’re after. Watch that source.

“Google” flickr photo by Carlos Luna shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license