Sensationalize Sensationalism

Sensationalism rules the day! Our world is increasingly driven by the need to sensationalize. We are bombarded by a host of digital stimuli that are perpetually activating the fight or flight response in the hypothalamus. We even appear to be getting less responsive to each event; quickly turning to the next stimulus.

To fill this attention gap and attract audiences, the media seem compelled to sensationalize everything to make things seem proportionally larger and more provocative. Larger or more interesting events get scaled up to ridiculous proportions, with a host of situations getting over dramatized and overblown.

All of this is compounded by the enormous number of false or misleading stories that are posted on social media channels. The difficulties in controlling or even verifying this false information are well documented. Much of this comes from people wanting to make a quick buck or press their point of view through even more sensationalism.

Perhaps more worrisome, much of this may be coming from foreign interests attempting to destabilize our society and economy. There is even reason to believe that foreign sources have successfully generated artificial social media attacks on local business projects just to weaken the companies and our business interests.

sensationalism risks

Concept of sensationalism problem in business

It’s our fault; we pay for, engage in, and retweet or post those sensational stories regardless of whether they’re known to be factual.  It often seems that the simple notion that it has been printed or posted is sufficient legitimacy.   For whatever reasons, many of us seem to be suffering from an ever-increasing need for different, new, provocative and sensational news.  The things that have already happened or only similar to what happened simply don’t satiate that appetite for sensationalism.

Now you may be thinking that this means you can get out of a bad situation by just keeping your head down and waiting for the next sensational story.  Don’t do that! Stories run in trends and you will be a proof point for the future stories, while subjecting your industry to even greater scrutiny and sensationalism.

Just look at Martin Shkreli  and how he helped ensure that the public is skeptical of the pharmaceutical industry. Or consider how Exxon was vilified for years after the Valdez incident  and Congress imposed punitive standards on the petroleum industry through the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. It took enormous effort and investment to improve the industry’s image.

On a more human level, look at Kevin Spacey,  who has largely kept quiet after a limited attempt to address his issue in the beginning. He continues to show up in stories about others’ bad actions and the entertainment industry’s responses to sexual assault and harassment.  Mark Wahlberg, on the other hand, took decisive action and should be able to avoid the taint of greed and insensitivity in the latest All the Money in the World scandal.

Similarly, Senator Al Franken after initially trying to manage his issues decided to aggressively address them and ultimately take strong action. Whether or not he needed to resign, he now seems to have the opportunity to make amends and rebuild his life. Sincere, meaningful communications can make all the difference in whether you have an opportunity to rebuild your credibility and reputation.

Of course, politicians and celebrities are different than businesses. Unanswered sensationalism can destroy businesses’ reputations, markets and even their viability. Despite their financial strength and enormous structural advantages, the expectations and vulnerabilities for a business can be greater. People are more willing to forgive or explain away the flaws of another person. An unresponsive, seemingly uncaring business might not get that chance.

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