Movin' Too Fast

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You’ve seen it all over your Facebook feed. Article upon article with sensational headlines so engaging readers rush to share. The comments are filled with users arguing with each other and the author. But how many of the people who shared the article and responded to it actually read it? Only four out of ten, according to a 2016 study by Columbia University and the French National Institute. The other six just shared it.[i]

The death of the 24-hour news cycle brought on by the adoption of e-communications and the rise of social media dramatically altered the landscape of modern communications. The deluge of information people receive every hour and the often fleeting attention they pay before forming an opinion and reacting have given rise to a culture in which communicators and readers move too fast. The voracious demand for content puts tremendous pressure on communicators, plus, basic content now requires not only the main copy, but at least three additional pieces, such as a social media post, video or image. As the Columbia and FNI computer scientists discovered, readers will interact with some of the posts, but not all, and they’re more likely to just hit “share” than read what was written, forming an opinion based only on summary.[ii]  

The majority of readers who will see your content will not fit the profile of your target audience. Figuring out not only how best to get a concept across initially but also whether and how to respond when someone reacts without reading, often misconstruing the messages and facts, requires a delicate balancing act. While it is critical to react quickly, that response must be driven by strategy, not emotion. The call for calm to both communicator and reader has never been more needed.

“Readers” (we use that term loosely here) often react lighting fast to clickbait headlines, sharing articles and information that may not be true or as unbiased as they think. A simple rule of thumb is to actually click the link! It’s tempting to share as soon as you see something that aligns with your point of view or makes your blood boil, but things aren’t always what they seem. Think about the celebrity death hoaxes that go out every year or attractive sales pitches. If it sounds too shocking or good to be true, it probably is.

We experienced this type of reaction in real time last week with our blog post that focused on decapitating a brand and in which we used celebrity comedians as examples of both savvy and poor branding. The flurry of impassioned responses from comedy fans was swift, but when we reviewed the comments on our tweets, we noticed many were responding in a way that made it clear they hadn’t clicked through. A few even came back to let us know they hadn’t read the article, and now that they had, they agreed with our point. That takes courage.  

#FakeNews is everywhere now. Teams on both sides of any debate can create and disseminate this misinformation to reach you. This week’s breaking story on how Cambridge Analytica used “psychological profiles” created out of Facebook data[iii] should make us more cautious than ever of how and what we engage with online, especially when searching for information. 

No doubt, it’s faster to react to a headline rather than the content. As communicators, we spend a lot of time analyzing and consuming traditional and social media, and it can be hard to parse out what’s real and what’s clickbait when you’re flying through. What we’ve learned is that you have to read things…closely and sometimes multiple times. Write it on a post-it and stick it to your desk. It’s a good reminder even outside of consuming content online. Read the complete email, read the entire Word document, read more than just the headlines. It’s going to save you a headache (and potentially an embarrassing apology) later.

Communicators must make sure they are clear on why they are responding and to whom. Reactions cannot be driven purely by emotion. Responses must be strategic; by reacting hastily to those who don’t read, communicators risk fanning the flames of negativity or giving voice to someone who is not remotely a stakeholder in your issue, product or service. 

Chill. Breathe. Read.

 

[i] Dewey, Caitlin. "6 in 10 of you will share this link without reading it, a new, depressing study says." 16 June 2016. The Washington Post. 19 March 2018.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Cadwalladr, Carole. "The Cambridge Analytica Files: ‘I made Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool’: meet the data war whistleblower." 18 March 2018. The Guardian. 19 March 2018.

 

 

Ellen Yui & Molly Devlin