Expectations and context are most important influencers on people´s attention
The more information deviates from the expected and the customary the higher the attention it is getting. Being more positive or more negative, though, is for these extraordinary pieces of information irrelevant. This is the conclusion of an recently published study by the famed UCLA in collaboration with the University of Michigan. The common saying „Only bad news are good news“ has been proven to be wrong, indeed.
Furtheron: Expectations and things which are considered to be „customary“ change constantly. Whether right now positive or negative information stand out and succeed depends on the context. Based on analyses of economic data, media coverage and opinion surveys the authors proposed a mathematical formula which is to predict these dynamics and correlations but meaning in general: in an optimistic context negative news get more easily into the headlines whereas on the contrary in economically weak times or at war positive news are more significant. However, are the surroundings outstandingly positive, negative and positive announcement are equally effective – the negative ones because they disappoint so much, the positive ones because they motivate even more.
A Model of Attentiveness to Outlying News. Lamberson/Soroka. Journal Of Communication 68 (2018), 942 – 964.
From the practice:
In almost every single mediatraining participants are subtly trying to bash journalism. Their complaints: constructive mediawork is useless since these people in the media are definitely not interested in positive developments of any organisations. „only bad news are good news“, that´s it.
In these cases it is my task to clarify: this is not true as such. Positive news do trigger interest, too, but they have to be relavant. And relevant from the recipient´s perspective means: deviation from the norm when particularly many people are involved, wehne the results have not been expected at all, when new developments are unique, when there are unprecetented consequences, etc.
Yes, we thankfully do live in an era where most of us still have a good living standard meaning that according to the study mentioned above positive news have a difficult time. Yes, certainly there are biased journalists, business partners and employees, too and yes, pretty often some people tend to listen more carefully to negative news. But frankly speaking: just a soften I perceive during my work socalled positive information by companies or parties as being too complicated, too uncritical, too predictable or too irrelevant.
Take this classic example: You are talking about x more members or revenue, but fail to communicate proactively how this number has to be evaluated: is it the best, second best or otherwise somehow exceptional – perhaps even negatively? It does not help: for having me getting the relevance of any information you as the messenger have to work out the deviation from the expected and the usual.
Good news and positive topics still have their importance and chance. It is up to us to sell them properly.