The Spin Cycle

There are two words you’ll never, ever hear me use in discussing what I do: spin and wordsmith.

I know some people wear these labels with pride -- and more power to them. Personally, I find both have a negative connotation and undermine what I believe corporate communications – and writing in general – should be.

To me, spinning and wordsmithing are merely synonyms for obfuscating the truth. I once worked with a company where “put a positive spin on X” was a regular request. Inevitably ‘X’ was a piece of news or decision that was in no way positive towards the customer.

Yet “spin” would make it all better.

Once spin was once the exclusive domain of the business world; sadly now it’s extended into popular media. The big boys and girls in the media world are fairly transparent in their leanings: Sun & Fox news skew right; CBC and CNN lean left; and most other media outlets find themselves somewhere in between. And while most reporters use social media to add context to their stories, others choose to abuse their corporate Twitter feeds by publishing pointed commentary well outside their spectrum of analysis (sports reporters making snide political comments). The intent of the latter may not be intended to spin, but it has the effect of ensuring all previous content gets 'spun.' We're innundated with spin from all sides.

These are the great opportunities and great dangers offered by the spin cycle. Savvy readers can be better informed about the content they’re reading by understanding how it’s framed. The idea that media is a neutral observer is increasingly quaint. Our social-media-influenced window into the behind-the-scenes of media has helped us to reframe the way we think and interpret media. Unfortunately for media, one or two rogue reporters using their corporate accounts for personal opinion can colour readers’ opinions about the content they consume.

There’s an even greater danger for businesses that decide to run their content through the spin cycle. Customer goodwill can be rinsed away, leaving only actively engaged – and angry – critics in its wake.

People don’t like being lied to. If you’re discontinuing a product, raising prices, or making other decisions that impact your customers’ wallets, then be up front with it. Don’t lie about the why – and, most certainly, don’t try to sell it as a positive experience for the customer. Sadly, too many companies think that playing fast and loose with language and perspective is a sound business strategy.

One of the greatest challenges for businesses engaging in on-line activities is finding the ROI. Direct sales figures can be vague – but trust and customer engagement with your brands are very real commodities. Turning interested parties into brand advocates through your social media efforts (which, of course, are backed up by the key pillars of customer service and quality products) can be a boon for your business. You have a responsibility to keeping those brand conscripts happy – and nothing angers them more than finding out their advocacy efforts have been misplaced.

And nothing can be more damaging to your brand than a critic with a cyber-axe to grind. They will not only expose your lies, but they’ll actively work to spread the word – and dig up other examples of your spin efforts.

Honest, transparent communication is the key. You don’t need to share everything. Your customers understand there are some things not mean for public consumption. Repeat this mantra: tell them what you can, tell them what you can’t – and tell them why!

And if bad things happen, be up front and honest. The only thing spin can wash away is goodwill. If you’re willing to trade your customers’ trust and loyalty for the sake of silly word games, then that’s your choice.

For me, however, spin is not in.




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