Whether you’re in general business, marketing, or investing, it pays to be able to tell the difference between simple rumors and actual trends. The current state of mass media makes it difficult to delineate between these two distinct concepts, but with the right strategies, it becomes much easier.
Rumors vs. Trends: The Basics
What is this distinction? And why does it matter so much?
A trend is a new, fashionable item or action that spreads within a given population, and sometimes to the general population. This is usually temporary, as trends emerge and disappear with relative frequency. For a trend to exist, it must manifest in reality.
A rumor is simply a suggestion of truth, oftentimes circulating among speculators. There can be rumors of trends in development, along with rumors of infinitely other varieties. Unlike trends, rumors may or may not be rooted in truth.
It’s important to try and distinguish between rumors and trends because rumors can easily be mistaken for real trends. In some contexts, this can have massive consequences. For example, according to NewPoint Marketing, rumors are often mistaken as trends in the foodservice industry to devastating effect. If you genuinely believe that people are going crazy for lentil-based dishes, you might revamp your entire menu of offerings to include more dishes with lentils in them.
If it turns out that this was just a rumor and not a real trend, all your efforts will be for nothing, and you’ll end up alienating a portion of your audience.
Root Causes of the Problem
There are several reasons why it’s hard to distinguish between rumors and trends in the modern era.
- Unreliable sources. One of the biggest strengths of the Internet is its sheer connective potential; anyone in the world can start a blog, and anyone else in the world can read that blog. This is excellent for generating new ideas and collaborating internationally, but it’s had the incidental downside of producing more unreliable sources. Just because someone claims it to be true on a fringe blog doesn’t mean it is true.
- The race for novelty. It doesn’t help that mainstream media sources are in a constant race for novelty. For mainstream news organizations to make money, they need to generate clicks. And the only way to generate clicks is to be the source who finds a new story, or a new angle first. Accordingly, most media organizations are more interested in speed and quantity than quality; they’re typically okay with publishing unverified rumors, as long as they beat their competitors to the punch.
- Syndication and imitation. Once the story is published in one media outlet, it can easily be picked up and redistributed by other media outlets. Some of these outlets syndicate the story verbatim, while others attempt to rewrite it in a different style. Because of this, a single false rumor can quickly take over the internet, convincing countless readers that this is a real trend in development due to the sheer number of articles talking about it.
- Manufactured trends. We also need to acknowledge malicious actors in the marketing and PR space who willingly manufacture trends from nothing. If you want extra publicity for your product, why not pretend that large swaths of people now consider it the latest fashion?
How to Tell the Difference Between Rumors and Trends
Now for the important part. How, exactly, can you tell the difference between rumors and trends when you read them online?
- Work with professionals. One option is to work with professional advisors. If you work with a marketing firm or PR firm, for example, they can help you sort out which stories are an accurate representation of reality and which ones are potentially contrived.
- Stick to sources you trust. Next, primarily stick to sources that you trust. Instead of reading random blogs or bouncing around to different media organizations, keep a tight list of publishers, journalists, and brands that typically only report verified, factual information. How can you tell if a source is trustworthy? That’s a more complicated question. Large institutions that have been around for decades are typically (not always, but typically) more reliable than their smaller and newer counterparts. You can also look for specific accreditations, awards, and affiliations as secondary indicators of trust.
- Read daily. What counted as truth a week ago may not represent the entire truth today. It’s important to read the news on a daily basis, so you can stay up to date with retractions, new revelations, and more context.
- Look at the world around you. Don’t build your entire vision of reality based on what people in the media tell you. Instead, look at the world around you. If mainstream media sources convince you that everyone is wearing blue shoestrings, but you don’t see blue shoestrings on anyone in your city, the trend is possibly exaggerated (if it’s true at all).
- Read more than the headline. About 59 percent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked. Let that sink in. The majority of people sharing and talking about articles online have never actually read those articles. It’s important to understand that headlines are often misleading, and if you’re only looking at or sharing headlines, you’re not getting the full story.
- Fact check. Whenever possible, check the facts for yourself. Are the claims made in this article provably or demonstrably true? What are other sources saying about this?
- Use surveys to evaluate customer sentiments. Finally, consider using surveys to evaluate customer sentiments directly. Instead of trusting secondary and tertiary reporting on the subject, do your own primary research.
With these strategies, you should be able to more reliably tell the difference between mere rumors and actual trends. Nobody can predict which trends are coming next, or how our current trends are going to evolve, but if you can stay in the present moment and verify the information you receive, you can use your understanding of these rumors and trends to better position your business and investments.