The Truth and Nothing But …

by Dan Ward

My wife and I watched a great National Geographic Channel documentary the other night regarding 9/11 conspiracies espoused by the apparently large and growing “Truther” movement.

I wish I could express shock that so many Americans would believe that Flight 77 was somehow secretly steered toward a hidden airfield while a cruise missile was launched at the Pentagon, or that demolition teams worked for weeks and months to prepare the Twin Towers for collapse without raising a hint of suspicion. But instead of shock, all I could register was acceptance that conspiracy theorists will always be part of our culture.

I also began to see how this program held lessons for business communicators. For those of us who represent or work for organizations with the letters “Inc.” or “LLC” after their names (or Heaven forbid, government agencies), we will always have to prepare for and deal with conspiracy theorists who believe that business and government leaders have hidden, nefarious tricks up their sleeves.

There will always be those who are skeptical of the actions our organizations take, and of the messages we communicate. But unlike the documentarians for National Geographic, our approach should not be to refute the conspiracy theories or answer the most absurd allegations. In so doing, we only lend credibility to their arguments and waste time speaking to an audience that will never be swayed by facts.

We must remember to focus on the audiences that are most important to us (including those who may be influenced by speculation and rumor), do the research necessary to determine what they know about us, and develop communication strategies that address two important questions: what do we want them to know, and what do we want them to do?

Remaining true to your values and true to your organization’s mission is the best response when faced with “Truthers” of your own.

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