Don’t Just Consider the Source; Be Considerate As a Source

An image of a wolf in sheep's clothing, used in conjunction with a Consider the Source blog.

We live in an amazing time where our ability to access information is limited only by our time and inclination. But we also live in a time where it’s more important than ever that we train ourselves to be media savvy and consider from whence this information comes.

From a business perspective, to help our readers in their efforts to consider the source, we have a responsibility to be considerate as a source.

And at the foundation of it all is one word: trust.

Back in the day, our access to information was limited to the out-of-date Encylopaedia Brittanica that was in our library. Forget real-time updates of information; we were lucky to have this-decade updates.

We relied on traditional media (generally the one newspaper, TV station, and talk-radio station) for our information, and businesses’ PR departments became adept at stuffing envelopes.

It’s a new day and consumers have greater expectations borne of greater access to information. In addition to more information, we also have a broader diversity of information. We don’t need to take one word as gospel when there are a variety of different voices joining the chorus.

And this has been tough for businesses to handle. Twenty years ago, most businesses were content focusing on the positive and could successfully ignore the negative. There were no platforms large enough to have that critical mass to impact one’s brand. That’s not the case any longer.

Your consumers (whether it’s for business or media) expect much more. Social networking has forced businesses to engage in two-way communication, which is a paradigm shift away from the more comfortable – and controllable – top-down model enjoyed for hundreds of years.

Readers and consumers have always been skeptical, but now they have the tools readily available to test their hypotheses. The truth is out there, but it’s often fractured and hidden amongst biz speak and sound bites.

The fact is that no matter what you say, there will be those who doubt your honesty -- until you prove to them why you should be considered honest.

For businesses, it means engaging in the discussion – both when it’s positive and especially when it’s negative.

People are smart. If something looks too good to be true, they’ll generally feel it is. So if you make it a routine of deleting any post with even a hint of negativity, your Kumbaya-infused Facebook page will actually have the opposite effect. Instead of highlighting your positives, it causes people to question your negatives.

In many ways, it’s the politicization of content. If a supposedly neutral entity only posts negatives about a certain segment, while exclusively lauding another, most readers will see the bias behind it. The same now happens for businesses: if you only share the good, that content becomes tainted with an inference of bias.

Companies also have a more direct route to the consumer in bypassing the media. Through direct communication, they can share messages with an engaged customer base – but the challenge is that you risk losing the credibility that a media ‘middleman’ provides.

In an effort to seem cutting-edge, I’ve recently seen a legacy company state – and I’m paraphrasing to protect the not-so-innocent, “We have put 100 per cent of our advertising resources into X.”  It sounds like a great story, until you realize that those initial resources were virtually non-existent. Last time I checked, 100 per cent of zero is still zero.

We try to teach our kids about being marketing savvy, understanding the impact and efforts of advertising. From advertorials to guerrilla advertising, there are several ways that companies can blur the lines between independent and dependent perception. And every time someone gets caught, it sullies the reputation of all – and causes an already skeptical customer base to become downright hostile towards messaging.

So how do you fix it? By remembering that being incredible doesn’t make you credible.

You don’t need to promote the negative, but, as a business, you can’t hide from it any more. The Internet has long memory and the one thing it, as a collective, won’t abide is censorship. If you delete negative comments, you will be exposed. And that negative sentiment has a far greater impact than the initial comment ever could have shared.

Again, there are rules: you don’t allow libelous, slanderous, racist, sexist, or hate-filled commentary. But by replying to the negative, not only do you address the issue at hand, you also increase the value of all your other commentary.

It’s painfully simple: if you, as a business, are willing to be honest with your criticism, then there’s an increased validity inferred to the remainder of your content.

So when you send out that ‘press release’ or newsletter, the threshold of skepticism will be lowered. When you talk about the quality and value of your products, your readers will be more apt to believe.

But, like Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” You need to continue to speak the truth and back up your statements. Hyperbole and puffery come at the expense of your credibility.

We live in a world where readers are more likely to consider the source of information. So be considerate of your readers and you’ll become that trusted source.

So how skeptical are you by what you read out of businesses? As a business owner/writer how do you share information? Comments are open.

Questions Answered

How do I make my content credible

What does open and honest mean in social media?

How do I effectively use social media to share my story?

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