The selective truth

There are two sides to every coin, but nuance is difficult to convey in a headline or summary. A clear and decisive statement is far likelier to catch the eye. It is important to question the motives of both the source of information and the reporting when making a decision as to the veracity.

I’ve noted this during my experiment to alternate my news sources. Similarly, I’ve tracked the early responses to a recent project I’ve worked on with interest.

SIDENOTE: The project is Brandheld – an extended study into consumer perceptions of the mobile internet, and both their current and intended behaviour. The press release is here and a topline slide deck will be released shortly. If you want more information about the report, contact me at [firstname]@essentialresearch.co.uk [/sales pitch]

The press release for the project can basically be split into two sections. The first section is a reality check, noting that adoption of the technology is perhaps lower than those in the London-centric media sector might think. The second section is a call to arms, suggesting a pathway to make the mobile internet seem more relevant to the mainstream.

SIDENOTE: The comments on The Register article nicely illustrate the reason for our first section. Most comments seem to fall into the “I do this, therefore everyone else must be doing it as well” category.

Several of the outlets picking up the story (to date) are only reporting or emphasising one of these sections. The reality check grabs the attention, and the call to arms supports the relevant sectors.

There’s nothing wrong with this – reporting a single side makes it easier for readers to digest, while many of us have an agenda we seek to push and any supporting evidence we can get is gratefully received and promoted.

This is fine for external communications and reporting. But for internal knowledge, it can be dangerous to be reliant on one side of the story.

The best clients I have worked with are those that recognise that while research may be commissioned in the hope of proving something, it is necessary to start with the unbiased and unvarnished truth, even if that might be difficult to hear. Even if only half the findings are externally reported, the other half should still be included in internal briefings.

This requires a strength of conviction if there is pressure coming down the chain of command for a particular result but there is clearly a need to avoid self-delusion. If the results are “bad”, it should be made clear why. If the desired outcome is achieved, it is unlikely that there won’t be a single caveat. And these caveats are important to understand when designing or promoting a strategy.

A similar principle is required when collating secondary research. Even if the findings are sourced or quoted as evidence in external communications, it is important to understand the biases or reliability of the data for your own internal knowledge. Recognising the nuances or limitations of something can only assist your efforts to improve it.

News articles remain a fantastic way to distribute information, and are often the first place that research or data is discovered. Nevertheless, it is vital to go back to the original source if you plan to do something with the findings. That way, an informed decision can be made about the accuracy or reliability of the information (for what it’s worth, Brandheld is an independent study conducted with no prior agenda aside from us thinking the mobile internet would be an interesting area to research). Even if this doesn’t affect the way the information is collated, it is still an important facet to consider.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/colin-c/200867665/

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