Thursday, January 14

Sharing Content: How Releases Impact Perception

Earlier today, I came across a press release posted on PR Newswire that questioned the validity of widely believed scientific data. And if the accusations in the release were true, it might have made an interesting case study in crisis communication.

However, I decided to pass on the topic after discovering that the originating source was biased. Instead, I decided to track the "success" of the release. The results weren't surprising, but they may be disturbing.

After CNBC ran the release as an automated PR Newswire pickup, the "story" was rewritten and embellished by a few bloggers and a few other mainstream media outlets. In turn, more mainstream media outlets and bloggers (along with some social network discussion groups) picked up on and discussed variations of the topic as well.

With each new wave of interest, some of them dropped the initial source all together, either accepting varied degrees of pro-con bias as "fact" without the need for attribution or preferring to attribute the content to a more credible news source or wherever they first learned about the story (their most immediate source). And some, apparently unaware of anything more than their interest in the topic, wrote new stories with new sources, either supporting or detracting from the original premise.

Ten Findings From Following A Single Release

1. The greater the popularity of a topic, more than the merit of the content, drives increased exposure.
2. The further content travels away from the source, the less likely the source will be mentioned.
3. The further content travels away from the source, the less accurate or tied to the source it will be.
4. Regardless of how accurate or tied to the source the content might be, people believe the content.
5. In some cases, negative sentiment toward an outlet generates a negative impression of the topic.
6. Many bloggers and media outlets cover topics with no knowledge of why the topic might be popular.
7. Communication, in this case a press release, shapes opinion well beyond measurable means of monitoring.
8. Over time, there is no means of communication management as the public shapes its opinion.
9. Most people have no knowledge of the public sentiment en masse; they only see their immediate contacts.
10. Some media outlets are lending credibility to biased sources, without vetting a single fact or original source.

It might make you wonder about the "news" we read today. Or, it might make some of us wonder how we, as communication professionals or public relations practitioners, are directly or indirectly shaping the world. Maybe.


Mark on 1/14/10, 4:26 PM said...

When I was writing my history dissertation, I discovered certain "facts" were being repeated so often that I was unable to trace their origins or confirm them as true. My point? The tendency you observe affects academia too.

Barry on 1/14/10, 4:30 PM said...

Hi Rich,

This reminds of something I read about as a kid.

A fairly detailed drawing of the interior of a room with a clock was shown for 30 seconds to someone who then was asked to draw the same scene. That picture was shown to another for the 30 seconds and they were asked to draw.

After the picture had traveled through seven foks the room was barely recognizable. The clock was still on the wall but no longer had the numbers 1 through 12.


Bill Sledzik on 1/14/10, 4:36 PM said...

You're scaring me here, Rich. A major concern with citizen journalism is gullible bloggers who lack the training or the insight to vet information. But the proponents of CJ tells us we're all smart enough to sort out the nitwits.

But when the purveyors of the content are the group formerly known as the "legitimate mainstream media," we have a different and very troubling scenario. And we're seeing it all too often.

I've long been a proponent of taking the client's message directly to the audience, eliminating the filters of news media gatekeepers. I used to think of the news media as a obstacle, not a conduit that would lend credence to my clients' messages.

Now that "going direct" has become so easy...What's that old adage? Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.

Flexible Packaging Companies on 1/15/10, 1:38 AM said...

Thank you for all the great posts from last year! I look forward to reading your blog, because they are always full of information that I can put to use. Thank you again, and God bless you in 2010.

Rich on 1/18/10, 9:56 AM said...


That is an excellent topic for dissertation. I recall being told a long time ago that the historic facts were dictated by the victors. Thank you for reminding me how fragile these things can be.


The game of telephone and all its variations frequently remind us that are something travels along, the meaning changes until it can't be recognized.

While I'm a proponent of social media and contribution, we really need a model that includes objective and authoritative (earned) review so the picture of the clock remains a true to the real clock as possible (assuming that it the intent).

@Bill Sledzik

It is something to be concerned about. In my local market, one of the publishers have reduced their staff to interns in an attempt to give up senior staff salaries. I have nothing against young reporters, but they tend to be the most impressionable and reactive without seasoned mentors.

I know you've been a proponent of direct to public communication. Me too. Unfortunately, it seems, the people being entrusted to do it do not necessarily have the same ethical standards (I mean they are ignorant to it, not purposefully unethical) and/or are too willing to buckle under the pressure of management.

Yes, I think we may have wished ourselves into a new era of altered communication. However, maybe we had to break those filters because for the last decade or so, I think they lost their way.

All my best,


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