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Is Spin A Bad Thing?

Follow the Doctor Spin blog:

xlargeThe word “spin” has a negative connotation.

That’s fancy-talk for saying that a word has a negative meaning.

Obviously, this bothers me.

Not to the extent that it keeps me awake at night, but it still is a slight discomfort for a guy who has plastered his online alias “Doktor Spinn” all over the internet, which coincidently is where I work.

Have I gotten it all wrong?

Even my favourite blogger, Gini Dietrich, has named her blog “Spin Sucks”.

And to be fair, in the way she would define spin, I’m quite sure I would agree with her. That sort of spin, well, sucks.

But I see no reason for giving a perfectly good and usable word only a negative side.

Because here’s the problem:

Many who describe the word spin describes it as if it would mean that you’re deliberately lying or misleading.

Since the term spin doctor originates from the world of politics, I can see how this came about.

But I think that spin, in its neutral meaning of course, is quite essential. Let me give you an example:

If I say that my glass is half empty, I imply that I wouldn’t mind a refill.

If I say that my glass is half full, I imply the opposite.

Neither of the statements are false; half empty or half full—they both describe the same accurate state of reality. But they suggest different outcomes.

Now, this just happens to be true for all communication:

We all spin messages as soon as we open our mouths and start talking.

As human beings, we simply can’t help ourselves. We spin, because spinning’s at the very core of all human interaction.

We frame our statements to make them serve our purposes. And we can absolutely do this without lying, misleading or confusing.

And it isn’t all about what you say either. It’s also about when you say it. Where you say it. To whom you say it. Why you say it.

It’s what’s described as media logic in PR literature. In this Einsteinian world of ours where everything is relative to the position of the beholder, definitive truths becomes theoretical constructs piling dust on the same shelf as the idea of absolute objectivity.

Marshall McLuhan even went so far in the 1960s to declare that what carries the message matters more than the actual message itself.

Or as he so eloquently put it, the medium is the message.

So, our choice of medium in itself puts a spin to our message, whether we like it or not.

Now, allow me to bang my biggest drum here:

I’d go so far as to say that we’re actually supposed to have our say, especially if it contradicts the perspectives of others. Because if I don’t get to phrase my reality in the way I see it, who else will?

This line of argument is not without merit from a linguistic perspective, either:

Spinning is a circular motion, not a binary type of flip where you switch from truth to lie or vice versa. Something can spin out of control, directly implying a circular motion breaking its gravitational bond with the centre and thus spinning outwards in wider and wider circles, like a spiral.

I think we can all relate to what’s popularly called “the viral effect” in social media, right?

So, regarding this post’s initial question, “Is Spin a Bad Thing?”, here’s how I would frame my answer:


Update: A couple of interesting LinkedIn reactions from International PR & Communications Group.

Screen Shot 2013-02-22 at 3.13.40 PM

Update: Sebastian Hesse works at bigbangandwhisper.com!

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The Writer:

As the author of Doctor Spin, Jerry's passionate about online persuasion and public relations. He runs the agency Spin Factory, the community PR of Sweden, and the e-learning platform Spin Academy. Jerry lives in Stockholm with his wife Lisah and his son Jack. Click here to subscribe to Jerry's posts!

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  • The viral effect i good, but if people doesn´t get what spin is about you need to change the way you communicate. Not in campaign, but when you are marketing your work.

    • Hey Jonas, thanks for commenting.

      I see your point about adapting to the receiver and their view of the world. But in this particular case I’m still wondering if we should accept that “spin” is a negative word or if it’s worth the effort to try and change it.

      I know a lot of digital strategists who uses the word in a positive sense when they’re discussing different tactics like timing and framing when discussing how to get a message out there.

      I’m biased of course, but I think it makes for a good discussion.

      Speaking of, it’s time to grab a lunch soon, right?

  • Jonas Larsson

    Just did. Enjoy your day! Hope to see you soon.

  • Bertil Myhr

    Surely, ‘spin’ is a derogatory term to begin with, and it still carries a negative charge for most people. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. In fact, by using the word an apparently ironic fashion, you are also disarming the negative associations of spin. And we have seen similar namings before, maybe you were inspired by NWA? In Swedish, it’s quite amazing how the Gay movement has ‘reclaimed’ and very consciously acted to change the use and meaning of ‘bög’ – just two decades ago, it was only used as an insult.

    • Hey B, I’ll connect with you this weekend about the other thing… :)

      Yeah, I actually thought about how minorities have successfully reclaimed terms in the past. But that made me think that maybe this discussion about “spin” easily becomes pretty… vain.

      I remember when reading “A hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” where the author Douglas Adams sends a spaceship with all the lawyers and PR consultants of earth straight into the sun to disintegrate and to be missed by, like, no-one.

      So the minority tactic might be a bit risky, because in the end of days, who really cares about how we marketeers label ourselves and what we do?

      Still, to your point, I do think “spin” is a useful word and I’ve heard it being used in its positive sense outside our little bubble of marketers as well.

      To “put a spin to something” maybe has a bright future after all, instead of being used about people who lie and manipulate.

      Thanks for commenting!

  • Doktor Spinn

    Thanks, man! Appreciate it!

  • mannung

    @DoktorSpinn My pleasure! You’re the one taking time to write interesting stuff :)

  • TorLowkrantz

    @DoktorSpinn Haha! Ses snart på en pilsner eller ngt!

    • DoktorSpinn

      @TorLowkrantz Verkligen!

      • TorLowkrantz

        @DoktorSpinn cool! Let’s styr it up!

  • shaanhaider

    @doktorspinn You are welcome, bro… Have a great weekend. Cheers :)

  • mikejny

    @DoktorSpinn You’re very welcome!

  • Spin implies manupulation. Good PR is abouot telling the truth well. Is putting your best foot forward spin? Depends on how it is done. More here: http://markgrimm.com/blog/pr-has-a-pr-problem-the-truth-about-what-we-do/

    • Thanks for stopping by, Mark.

      Yeah, it does imply that. But the way I see it, spin is only evil if the intent is evil. It’ll be interesting to see if our profession ever will get rid of our bad reputation… but the more we blog, discuss and prompt for transparency, the sooner we’ll get there! :)

  • As I always say, human beings are the ones who create words and then decide on the way they will be used.

    I like the word “spin”. It reminds me of the old days, when people still did manual labor. And in a way, it’s what people in social media do. They spin the wheel of the human journey to turn it into digital footprints.

    Ok, I’m done with poetry for the night. lol

    Great article, Jerry!

    • “They spin the wheel of the human journey to turn it into digital footprints.”

      Love it, Cendrine! Have a great weekend!

  • PR_RisingStar

    Your blog has made me realize that when I was “spinning” the truth (thinking I was still telling the truth, just a better view of this truth by the way I told it), that I was actually lying by not just saying it straight out, like it was. Spinning IS negative whether you think you are still telling the truth, just your version of the truth or the cleaned up version or whatever….it’s still skewed and not the total truth, hence a lie. It’s time to stop spinning and just give the naked truth. We all deserve it!

    • Fair enough… you anonymous person, you.

      But who’s to determine which truths to be held as absolutes? And doesn’t this mean that biased voices should forever hold their tongues?

  • herlihygillian

    “@Steveology: Is Spin A Bad Thing? http://t.co/zz5zY4RTkc via @DoktorSpinn”