Anyone that dabbles in Internal communications or Crisis PR, should read “U.S. Team in Baghdad Fights a Persistent Enemy: Rumors” in today’s New York Times (free registration required).
Believing almost nothing, Iraqis turned by the millions to the base currency of all who live in closed societies: the whispers of unsanctioned truth. Throw in the natural suspicions now raised by the presence of an occupying power, and you have an almost ideal hothouse for rumors and gossip. (…)When they realised that all these rumours were flying all over the place, the US forces created a group of Iraqis that can go into the different areas of Baghdad and monitor what is being said. The US leadership can then craft their messages and create tools that correct the public’s misconceptions.
The American civilian occupation bureaucracy is often criticized by Iraqis for hiding behind the 13-foot concrete blast walls surrounding its headquarters. In such isolation, those critics say, the coalition authorities have little grasp of Iraqis who live in what the Americans call the Red Zone — Baghdad beyond the Americans' gates.
Well, I’ve got to congratulate them. This is a good strategy. At least, it’s a good first step.
This applies to all of us in different ways. If you’re in a business, or a non-profit, rumours will fly just as fast if you’re not out there communicating rapidly and truthfully. If you do that, you’ll develop the credibility to be believed.