Yesterday, a tanning salon from Canada happened upon my blog post about the possible health benefits of tanning. When I first saw the string of comments, I feared they were spam. After seeing they were honest comment (if a little biased), I decided to leave them published. Those comments got the response I thought they would – doubt. Of course a tanning salon would fight for the idea tanning was a safe and healthy activity. That said, it left me wondering, regardless of the bias, who better to discuss tanning than a tanning salon?
A lot of businesses have taken to social media and blogging spread their message. That’s my day job, after all. While we may be immediately suspicious of the information a company puts out there, who better than them to discuss their own services? Everybody has blogs these days, from insurance companies to lawyers. They’re all trying to be expert sources for the public in the hopes that public will turn to them when they find themselves in need of their services. Whether or not that happens hinges on their ability to convince the public they are honest and know what they are talking about.
As I reflected on those comments from the tanning salon, which argued that tanning wasn’t as bad as Big Pharma claimed and that Big Pharma was also biased in its assessment of tanning, I wondered what causes us to trust one more than the other. What makes us think Big Pharma is less biased than the tanning salon or that one knows more than the other about tanning? We’ve all heard that tanning in a salon is bad for you. We know the increase in the use of tanning bed has happened during the same period where there was an increase in skin cancer (correlation, not causation). That’s enough to be wary, but is that enough to confirm the health benefits or detriments as fact?
Now, let me be clear: I have no idea where that particular tanning salon gets its information. I know the tanning salon I went to knew enough about how to get tan, but didn’t have much to say on the risks involved. As such, I am also immediately suspicious of a tanning salon claiming tanning is 100% healthy without some kind of study to back up that idea.
With that out of the way, I am also suspicious of pharmaceutical companies, knowing full well they’d rather we all take pills to treat the symptoms of our illnesses instead of actually curing or preventing illnesses. A lot of those pills also cause harm to health as they do their job soothing our symptoms.
This is all beside the fact, though. What I really mean to point out is how we decide to trust a company. Who better to inform us about insurance than an insurance company? Would someone who studies insurance, but never actually provides insurance, be a better informant than the actual company? Would someone who studies construction but has never actually constructed anything be a more reliable source than a construction company?
Maybe our trust in a company has nothing to do with their business. Perhaps it has more to do with how the interact with us. One of the reasons why social media has become so important is because people want to know companies they hire like they know their close friends on Facebook. If they interact with us, are honest about their skills and equally honest in their apologies when they make a mistake, we’re more likely to like them.
Of course, that doesn’t really explain why people are automatically suspicious of certain companies. It does not surprise me that those who talked to me about the tanning salon’s comments were unmoved. Tanning has a similar reputation to cigarette and tobacco companies. That said, I can search ‘how many cigarettes do you have to smoke to get lung cancer,’ and find a significant amount of information. People have looked into this, finding it has a lot to do with your genes, the age you start smoking and how many cigarettes you smoke in a day. Unfortunate people may develop issues within six months while others may spend their whole lives cancer free. Since every link I clicked on referenced studies, I have no doubt I could find them to do more in-depth research.
Maybe the answer is that people are already convinced tanning is bad. People smoked cigarettes for a long time, so there had to be a significant effort to show people how unhealthy the behavior is. However, since everyone readily accepts tanning is bad for you, there’s no motivation to invest in more studies.
Do you have any idea how much one session of tanning increases risk of cancer? Do you think someone has asked that question before. What makes you trust a company? Would you ever read a company blog to learn more about the company and industry? What sort of assumptions do you have about the information shared on a company blog?