Thursday, August 25, 2011

News Release: What is more Important? Timeliness or Accuracy

In a recent discussion with a group of executives, the issue of timely press releases was raised.  Some in the group felt that while we endeavour to be timely to frame the crisis, others felt that it is important to ensure accuracy which usually takes time.  Hence, the group was divided on the relative importance of timeliness versus accuracy.

To guide the discussion, I shared the following perspective.  I told the Group that the answer to their dilemma was in understanding (a) stakeholder behaviour towards news; and (b) the psychological concept of primacy/ recency effects.

Stakeholder Interest in News.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that unless an issue directly impacts them, stakeholder interest is short-lived and dependent on whether there are “newer” more interesting developing news.  As a norm, from my observations, interest in an issue (in both Main Stream and Social Media) usually peaks between 12 to 24 hours and thereafter declines significantly beyond 48 hours.

First Impressions.  Based on psychological studies, stakeholders’ strongest memories of an issue will be either the first or most recent “facts” he or she receives.   In the context of an issue in which the stakeholder has no interest, he is therefore unlikely to be on the look-out for more facts on the issue.  Hence, it is a natural assumption that the organisation’s first response is what he or she will remember making it more crucial.

With these two premises in mind, I then opined that the balance between accuracy and timeliness must be seen along a time continuum.  In the early stages of a crisis, the need for timeliness takes priority over accuracy.  This then gradually changes when we cross the 24 hour mark where accuracy takes priority.  Thus, both groups are correct depending on the time continuum they were referring to.

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