Sometimes disseminating complicated information online can be difficult. When that information comes with extreme emotional attachments, it can be even more so. It can also be easy to intentionally misconstrue said content to manipulate readers. Nowhere is this dynamic seen more clearly than in the consumption and transfer of medical information. Ask anyone about vaccines, and you are likely to get a harsh, one-sided opinion. Ask them online and expect to get snowed under by links and phrases and copy-paste avalanches of more or less related and more or less sourced “information.”
Likely by now, many of you reading this are already loaded for bear. You might even be scrolling down to the comments to start blasting away. Let me ask you to pause, just for a moment to think about this situation from a different perspective: that of public relations.
While some people might call a passionate audience a PR win — and, in most cases, it definitely is — there is something to be said for an equally informed audience. After all, people are dying.
U.S. officials recently made it official: the death of a Washington woman is the first time an American has died from measles in more than a decade. Despite being highly contagious, health officials have said it is very rare — in this country at least — for a patient to die of the disease. That factoid has been one that most anti-vax sources and supporters have stood firm on when defending their right to choose not to vaccinate their children.
People don’t die … at least not here.
Well, that’s changed now. And that could signal a change in the ongoing debate over vaccines in this country … depending on which side grabs the message and gets it out to their soldiers first. In the public relations business, message control is one of the key dynamics. Forget what’s “really true.” That matters, sure. But what matters more is which side of any issue grabs the most sympathetic attention first.
See, people will be much quicker to believe what they want to believe. And, because information consumption online is entirely consumer based — people find what they are looking for — those messages are quickly emphasized and underscored…whatever they happen to be.
For example, if you want to convince yourself the earth is flat, or 9–11 was an inside job, you can, and quite easily. You can probably manage that in less time than it may take you to read this article, all by typing certain search terms into Google.
The same applies to ANY message online. People don’t search for “measles.” They search for “does measles kill” or “measles deaths in the US” … or something of the sort. In other words, the very process of information gathering in the digital age is already loaded with bias.
The question, for everyone, is how to best take advantage of this to make sure yours is the message people want to hear.
CEO of New York based Public Relations firm, 5WPR, Ronn Torossian is a life long New Yorker and author of PR Book “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations”