Sign that says "Crazy"

Winning An Argument with Crazy

February 20, 2024

Let’s be clear. You can’t win an argument against Crazy. 

Once rightfully relegated to the lunatic fringe, Crazy abounds today – it is everywhere. Crazy is encouraged, fanned, inflamed, and carried to new converts by the magnifying lens that is social media. Sadly, organizations that value their reputation must now pay attention to Crazy, because Crazy can drag down an otherwise admirable reputation.

But trying to respond to Crazy is futile and exhausting. In their book Nobody’s Fool, Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris refer to the “bullshit asymmetry principle.” They argue the effort required “to refute a heap of nonsense is an order of magnitude greater than that required to produce it.” 

Why? Once someone commits to an underlying belief, then it’s easy for them to accept the slightest, vaguest, and flimsiest “evidence” as fact because it confirms what they believe. Not only is the most outlandish and contorted explanation confirmatory, but also the lack of evidence to support the belief somehow confirms it. 

So, does that mean we just turn the other cheek and let their wild accusations go unchallenged? The short answer is, yes. As long as Crazy is just bouncing around its self-reinforcing echo chamber of like-minded lunatics, then it’s best to leave it be. The amount of effort needed to convince Crazy of its craziness is exponential compared to the benefit of doing so. 

However, sometimes Crazy escapes into broader public discourse. We at Kith have what we call our 80/20 rule. It states that an organization’s communications strategy should focus on the 80% of stakeholders who are rational and receptive to hearing what you have to say. Even if they disagree with you, you have a reasonable chance of getting them to see your point of view. 

Your strategy should not be based on the 20% who are irrational and will either parse every message for nuggets confirming their existing beliefs or won’t listen to you at all. To that end, it’s important to manage expectations when your organization is being assailed, especially online. Your CEO may feel the urge to comment on every negative social media post, but it’s a losing strategy. That’s trying to argue with Crazy. Instead, try to contain Crazy by focusing your finite energy and effort on what moves the needle of broader public opinion.

We’ve developed a five-level classification that defines how an organization will react to media coverage and online narratives. For this purpose, “media” means any outlet publishing content that mentions you, and “reporter” means anyone responsible for that content.

  1. Engage  – Build relationships with reporters, provide deep background, provide potential interview opportunities, and work toward a positive story.
  2. Respond – Tell your side of the story by providing a statement, answering written questions, and offering interviews. 
  3. Correct – Seek correction of factual errors or clarifications of statements that misrepresent you or create a false impression.
  4. Monitor – Keep an eye on a story to see if it gains traction, gains the attention of important media outlets, spreads online, becomes a source for other reporters, or evolves negatively (or positively).
  5. Ignore – Pay no attention to the story as it stands because it or the media source is too isolated, too partisan, too conspiratorial, or has no following among people you care about.

Exactly what constitutes each level depends on the organization, the “story,” and its audience. So, if you want to use a classification like this with your CEO, CCO, or CMO, it helps to identify specific examples for each level. 

For example, a New York Times story is in the Engage or Respond levels while a New York Post story is in the Correct or Monitor levels. You might want to Engage or Respond to someone whose Instagram story reaches two million people, but Monitor or Ignore the story that reaches 2,000 people. However, if those 2,000 people include most of your employees, then the story might rise all the way to Engage.

Because the effort to combat Crazy is so great, it should be concentrated on people that matter and who might be receptive to your message. Otherwise, you’re just arguing with Crazy, and that is a no-win situation for you, your brand, and your reputation.

Need help? Kith facilitates crisis preparedness workshops that will help your company attain the clarity, trust and speed you need to respond confidently – no dithering! – to any crisis. We’d be happy to have a conversation about how we can help your company be ready to chart an effective course to reputation protection. Is your business ready to handle a crisis? Take our Crisis-Proof Your Business quiz and gain valuable insights to prepare your business for any crisis.

Jeff Blaylock

Jeff is an experienced strategic communications and public affairs professional who has advised organizations through challenging media and political environments, public affairs campaigns, reputation management, message development and crises.