Rumors can really make the job of a communication profession quite difficult. Now that there is more communication than ever before, by more people than ever before, the flow of information is incalculable. The book ‘On Rumors’ describes the development and the pitfalls. As far as I am concerned the book also clarifies how external specialists are needed more than ever.
Information has only started to spread more and more. With the rise of mass media the rate of how fast news is provided to people was given an enormous boost. The internet gave the snowball an extra push. Because of Twitter, blogs and other social media the speed is now dazzling.
Whether the reliability is going down because of that speed has never been researched properly as far as I know, but it is commonly assumed. A news site that wants to be the first to present a scoop, can not afford to check their facts too much. Before you know it someone else will be first. Bloggers feel even less pressure to wait for a fair hearing.
Whether this development truly exists and if it is harmful, is what the book ‘On Rumors’ by Cass R is about. Sunstein. He answers both questions with a resounding ‘yes’ and advocates for legislation that should improve the protection of those victims of erroneous reporting.
Before a law like that is there the phenomena rumors will only become more interesting for the communication business. Spreading the right information in the right way is not always a guarantee that you are believed by your target audience. The risk that a person, website or interest group interprets your information very differently than you and your organization is quite big. Skeptical citizens, critical consumers, but also just people who do not sympathize with your organization all create headaches.
How it all works, is described by Sunstein in his book. Scientifically researched mechanisms for the diffusion of information are discussed. He also explains why some people prefer an erroneous representation of facts above a correct one. Fascinating and useful for communication specialists.
In the first chapters Sunstein also highlights three ways in which we learn from others. And that is where I believe companies and organizations need to pay extra attention.
The first is the information domino effect: the more people believe in something, the bigger the odds are that others will believe it as well.
The second is the conformity domino effect: if someone notes that others think of something in a certain way, the odds will increase that he will do so himself as well, even though he did not originally do so.
And finally Sunstein describes group polarity: likeminded that talk to each other about a certain subject, will see confirmation on their opinion and will then think of the subject in a more extreme way than they did before.
Those three group effects are mine fields for companies without a fresh outside perspective. Someone who is completely off and never talks outside of his circle, will never be convinced that he is wrong. In addition, the odds that erroneous information will gain the upper hand will increase, if there is not a lot of diversity within an organization.
That is why it is very important to allow the critical perspective of outsiders. Of course it was always true that a fresh breeze from the proper direction can only be a good thing for companies and institutions. But especially in this time, in which we are conscious of the dangers of rapid information diffusion, but still do not have a really good solution to erroneous rumors, I believe it is the external parties that are extra important.
Bridging the gap
The gap between what members of an organization believe to be true, and what the outside world thinks of as believable, is potentially larger than ever. Because of the three named group effects those members have a difficult time to cross that gap. The odds that an external professional does succeed is bigger. It is crucial that those outsiders are outspoken and dare to say what is necessary, or the consensus will only grow.
Originally published by Maud Geerbex under the title “External communication specialists: needed more than ever?”. Thanks for allowing us to reproduce it.