#TeamYanny, #TeamLaurel, and What We Can Learn for Reputation Management

Miriam Hirschman, May 17, 2018

Yesterday I joined the ranks of #TeamYanny. That is, the part of the population that hears “Yanny” in the sound clip now dividing the Internet. As of May 17, 2018, the original post on Twitter is up to 184,000 likes and 78,000 retweets. This viral controversy is reminiscent of the “Is the dress black and blue or white and gold?” question that made the rounds in early 2015.

The dress question was so hotly contested and elicited so much scientific explanation that it got a dedicated Wikipedia page, called simply “The dress.” In fact, it didn’t take long for “Yanny or Laurel” to spawn a Wikipedia article of its own.

With all the debate at work, at home, and online about what exactly we are hearing, I saw a lesson in all this for the work we do helping clients manage their digital reputation and branding. As media outlets have feverishly published explanations for the ambiguity, it’s become apparent that the original recording was, in fact, just one of those two words. Clearly, there was an original intention for this recording, but once handed over to the public, it became open to interpretation.

Isn’t that true of anything online? Articles, websites, blogs – all published with intent to convey a specific message, but ultimately open to interpretation of the reader. How much control do we have over what is seen about us online? The answer is: more than we realize.

For a company or brand, their story is the sum of the content available about them online. But, much like the Yanny/Laurel recording (and the dress), the understanding is subject to interpretation. The tone of the content on the search results page – or ambiguity when there is insufficient content – can lead to strongly held perceptions on the part of the reader. Companies need to step up and manage their story online, minimizing ambiguity and creating a context that will guide the audience to the correct interpretation. Don’t leave your audience calling you Yanny when you really want them to know you’re Laurel.

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