Sensational Stories Will Get Shared—And Also Get You in Trouble

rumorsWinston Churchill famously quipped, "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." We thought of that quote in light of a recent piece on that holds some key lessons for communicators who are forever trying to break through the clutter and make their online content stand out.

The article, titled "Why Rumors Outrace the Truth Online," written Brendan Nyhan, an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College, explores why unverified information gets shared so widely compared with verifiable information.

It’s a similar syndrome—which is as old as the hills, really—when erroneous information gets widely shared (or talked about) while the correction is largely ignored.

This is something that PR pros need to think about. Hard. If you add a lot of hype or, worse, are loose with the truth in your communications (either written or spoken) it might result in getting your brand or organization some exposure.

But what happens when the information is questioned and, ultimately, shown to be false or embellished? It will happen. How is that going to help in your efforts to enhance the value of PR in the eyes of C-level executives? Running a correction—which no one is going to read anyway—could be the least of your problems. Depending on how much you hyped up the information and how embarrassing it may be to your employer or client, it could be a fireable offense.

Sure, PR pros can be forgiven if they want to avoid producing anything that might smack of "boring" content. However, that’s a risky proposition, for your reputation—and your brand's reputation. Better to work on getting deeper insight into the sort of content your audience appreciates and finding new and unusual (but fact-based) ways to tell your story.

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1