One trend that has been flashing up on my radar a lot recently: bullshit.
It’s not a word I use much myself, but I hear it from others almost as much as I hear “Have a nice day.” It has gone from ordinary people’s casual usage to a word prominent people say pointedly.
At first blush, my sense was that this all seemed like a retake on the idea of “truthiness” that grabbed my attention a decade or so ago. Stephen Colbert, in his previous role as a right-wing blowhard talk show host, defined truthiness as “what you want the facts to be, as opposed to what the facts are. What feels like the right answer, as opposed to what reality will support.”
But the deeper I’ve dug, the more I’ve realized that truthiness is a subset of bullshit, which is a much bigger phenomenon—so much so that it’s one of the 11 trends we’ve forecast for 2016 in Havas PR’s annual trends report.
In that report, we note that the Internet and its offspring social media are democratizing free speech. Anyone with a connection can share his or her opinion on anything, which in theory is a great development—the First Amendment writ large, bypassing the traditional gatekeepers of mainstream media. In theory, people can now put their ideas out there, debate them with others, examine the evidence readily available online and come to well-informed conclusions. In theory, it’s quick and easy to research claims flying around the Internet.
In practice, we’re finding that things don’t work that way. In practice, people hang out and interact online with others who think like they do, creating echo chambers of similar opinions. In practice, people become more entrenched rather than considering and weighing different points of view. In practice, people don’t skeptically check up on claims, provided the claims confirm their own opinions. And when they do check up, it’s easy enough to find evidence online to support pretty much any opinion. In fact, rather than trying to track down the truth, it turns out that most people are satisfied with some form of truthiness.
But that doesn’t mean that we as marketing professionals should, too. In addition to living at the height of B.S., we are also living in the age of radical transparency, and truthiness is just a waste of spin. Direct and honest is the antidote to the B.S. of B.S.ing. So is working with people you can respect and to do work you can be proud of for clients and causes you believe in.
To be a great communications leader today, we all can remember these four lessons:
- Play it straight
- Tell the truth
- Craft truthful stories
- Be direct