By Garrett Smith
You’ve likely heard how the Russians weaponized Facebook during the last presidential election. A number of organizations leveraged fake news items and the social media platform’s ad targeting tools in an attempt to swing the vote in one candidate’s favor.
Having an internet marketing background, this didn’t shock me nearly as much as the average voter. The fact is that online, fake news has existed for a long time. It was, however, the most public showcase of an ever-invasive threat - the rise of fake news and fake reviews.
You may be wondering what foreign adversaries who were using Facebook to influence an election have to do with you and your business. For one, the internet is a large lead and revenue generator.
Decreased trust, increased fears
Fake news outlets and news stories have been around as long as the internet itself. However, only recently has the rest of the world caught up to what a cesspool the internet can be. Story after story has led to a heightened awareness of privacy violations, increased skepticism and fear in the general public.
You don’t have to think too hard about how an increase in distrust can make your job harder. The warier the general consumer, the harder you have to work to gain their trust. This is especially true if you’re a new business or are trying to acquire new customers. More work equals more time, more money and less profit.
Great business! No, they stink!
It’s not just fake news stories. Other aspects of the internet, such as online reviews, have come under fire for their lack of authenticity. A part of the internet that has long been viewed as merely a pain in the neck, online reviews have continued to rise in influence. Yet they continued to be called into question - can you really trust them?
Fake reviews, positive and negative, have increased dramatically in the past few years as websites have placed greater emphasis on them. Google and Yelp, for example, have entire programs dedicated to recruiting thousands of critics to review your business. This rise in emphasis has caused many companies to go rogue, purchasing dozens of glowing reviews for themselves and hundreds more negative ones for their competitors.
Who can you trust?
If you’re looking for a service provider, and you’re already skeptical about what you might see about them online, you know where this is going for you as a snow and ice management company.
Despite a heightened awareness, and much talk from the platform providers, little has been done to stop the fake news. In fact, there are likely more fake news outlets and stories today than ever. The same goes for fake reviews, which have become such an issue that new technology is being developed to help determine whether the review is real.
All of this leads to an age where consumers are increasingly distrustful and skeptical of what they hear, read and see online. This will likely spill into other forms of media. It’s already been shown that even the most respected news outlets sometimes tell a story through a biased lens.
What can you do?
In an era of consumer distrust and fear, authenticity and transparency will rule. Having a brand (and service) customers trust will be more important than ever. Customers who have grown tired of the bait and switch, of being misled, will gravitate toward service providers that make them feel safe.
The way to get there is not easy. Increasing consumer trust in your brand requires an openness and candor that a business is not often comfortable with. You also will need to turn your existing customers into fans. This means spending more time soliciting feedback from customers, listening to what’s being said about your brand and taking steps to improve. You might even be able to ask them to leave you a positive Google review.
Let’s face it - customers don’t always believe what they read or see. In an age where it’s easier than ever to fake it, you need to be authentic and transparent and build relationships that can transcend the worst the internet can dish out.
Jump start solutions
- Build trust in your brand with openness and candor.
- Make your existing customers your biggest fans. Then ask them to give you positive reviews online.
- Monitor your online profiles and proactively and professionally respond to all reviews
- Don’t lash out when someone leaves you a negative review.
Garrett Smith is co-owner of WNY Snow Removal and founder of Pitch + Pivot, LLC. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.