Sunday, November 30, 2014

Importance of Gaining the Information Initiative

Public Relations and Social Media Practitioners have instinctively known the importance of gaining the information initiative in a crisis. This is because the public seeks to understand what is happening and any information vacuum will allow for misinformation to fester and grow.

A study by Stephan Lewandowsky and Ullrich Ecker from the University of Western Australia, Collen Seifert and Norbert Schwarz from the University of Michigan and John Cook from the University of Queensland and University of Western Australia has now scientifically proven that first information "sticks" with the audience and, even if proven false subsequently, will remain "real" in the minds of the audience.

The study also showed that even when the initial information was proven overwhelming to be wrong by experts, the audience would ignore the new information and recall the earlier erroneous one. Even after extensive efforts to correct the first misinformation, a sizable segment of the target audience would continue to believe the initial piece of information.

In light of this finding, given the speed with which social media works and the propensity for it to be filled with misinformation, crisis management practitioners must push out their side of the story as soon as possible. While of course endeavoring to ensure 100% accuracy, speed is the priority in the initial stages of a crisis and less than 100% facts can, and should be, pushed out to be corrected if proven wrong at a later stage. What is critical is for the organization to seize and maintain a faourable narrative.

While many old school PR Practitioners will challenge me on this approach, all I will say is that we are operating in a new information environment where new rules dominate. This is perhaps one of the main reasons why the Singapore government is losing the social media space and information initiative as it is an organization that prides itself on absolute accuracy and hence it is always seeking to correct misinformation.

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