May 1st, 2009
My mother called me internationally last night from China (which is a big deal because phone calls are still extremely expensive in developing nations). I was at a friend’s dinner party when I heard her frantic voice: “ARE YOU OKAY?! YOU SHOULD GO TO THE DOCTOR’S!!! MAKE SURE YOU DON’T HAVE THE FLU!” At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if we all knew what flu she’s referring to. It took me a while to assure her that I only had a minor cold and that it feels nothing like the flu. But no matter how mild I told her my symptoms were, she was still unconvinced that it is most likely (99% chance) that I had the common cold—begotten from a week of heavy school work and other obligations.
What are we to learn from this anecdote? The widespread fear that has helped Costco sell out all of its Purell Sanitation products, the worry that has discouraged people from attending large gatherings, the horrifying thoughts of even stepping on a plane to Mexico (oh, the heavenly white sand beaches)…THE MEDIA IS POWERFUL. As a Political Science major, I have learned to view the media’s influence over public opinion with a critical eye. But I’m not here to blame the media for spreading fear…because it isn’t. I believe that the media simply stated the facts (number of people infected with Swine Flu, number of deaths, preventative measures…etc). It’s more what is UNSAID that has been causing fear. People start to believe that because the media reports on this flu every minute of every hour that the situation is SEVERE. I am not discounting the hundreds of people who have fallen sick in Mexico over the past two weeks; in a city of 2 million (Mexico City), the illness rate is definitely alarming. But the situation in America is far from the statistics in Mexico. In America, 1,400 die every year from strep throat. The Swine Flu has killed EIGHT…out of a population of 300 MILLION! Does that put things in perspective?
THE MEDIA IS POWERFUL. People automatically reward more credibility to the things they see most often or most talked about. It illustrates the underlining assumption that people have: it must be important if it’s everywhere in the media! Untrue, unfounded, but completely natural (psychologically). This is where Bill Nye the Science Guy successfully tapped into the kid’s need for repetition to help remember science facts on his show. And it works!
SO LET’S USE IT! You don’t have to be obnoxious (which is detrimental to your publicity) with your advertising, but you do need to get yourself noticed. People who have heard of you once somewhere before will give you more credibility than they will to someone they haven’t heard of. Think of yourself as the media: what are the most effective headlines? What are people’s needs? Thanks to the web, this endeavor no longer has to cost you much more than your monthly/yearly tab on coffee. With a little creativity, you can maximize your visibility through (oftentimes free) web servers! (wow…!) So don’t fight the surge of online media, USE IT! Stay ahead of the curve and be your own powerful broadcaster!
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