Before you can tell the truth, you need to know it.

For our second part of the series on truth in media I think it’s important that we define the term. 

Truth is multifaceted and largely determined by perspective.  This is a crucial understanding of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which says what you perceive from where you stand may not jive with the perception of someone standing right next to you.  Media, from the beginnings of the oral tradition to mass media of the 20th century was designed to create a common perspective for large groups of people and take away some of the debate over what is true.

The media of the of the 20th century was controlled by a relatively few corporations and individuals and reached millions of people.  That made it possible to maintain a certain control over a specific message and establish a few facets of truth as common to the masses.  This was the basis of McLuhan’s concept of the “media is the message.” Large groups of people could be convinced of a particular facet of truth simply because the message was drilled into them from a relatively small number of outlets. Truth became “obvious.”

The 21st century changed that paradigm.  Individuals, through the internet and social media, became members of the media.  They could publish their own perspective to a small group of people.  The masses are broken into virtual communities defined more by their perspective of truth rather than geography, culture and even race or religion.

The corporation or organization that doesn’t realize this to be the new way of perception will be very frustrated in its attempts to push its version of reality/truth if it continues to follow the 20th century practice of driving the message until it is perceived as true.  It is imperative that the message incorporates as many facets as possible into its message in order to gain the trust of its market.  Let me elaborate with a story.

A company has a new product that it has created and wants to promote it to its market.  The teams in charge of developing this product has invested a great deal of time, expertise and effort into creating this product and they believe everything they say about it.  They have even validated their message by investing in market research from a large analyst company.  They launch their product into the market, sure that they have done all that is necessary.

Shortly after the launch, a customer has problems with the product and calls technical support.  After many frustrating sessions he opts to return the product, but since technical support could find nothing wrong with it, the company refuses to take the product back.  After all, he’s just one customer and no one else has complained.

It turns out the customer is a fairly well-respected technical blogger and he starts writing a series on his experiences with the company.  A journalist at a major newspaper starts reading the blog and writes a story about it.  The news spreads like wildfire and multiple other customers who have not been as vocal start chiming in.  By the end of 6 months the company has lost billions in market capitalization as its stock plummets.  The company ends up publicly apologizing and delivering an adequate product.

That’s not a fiction.  That actually happened to Dell Computer.  The blogger and his site “Dell Hell” still exists and has been since 2008.

All Dell had to do was consider, just for a moment, the perspective one customer considers as true and realize if there is one, there are more.

Every customer you have has a perspective different from your company.  Every employee has a different perspective from your company.  Every competitor has a different perspective from your company.  That is the ultimate truth in business communication.  If you are not making an attempt to listen to those perspectives everyday and considering how you can positively respond to them, you do not know what is true.