Many businesses see the internet as a shop window with visitors being the equivalent of people staring lustfully at that dress or toys that have been longed for through the glass. While often this analogy could be quite close sometimes it is far from the truth. If you were walking up the street going about your business and decided that you would like to buy a coffee to take back to the office and you saw two coffee shops ahead of you that sold your favourite coffee, and one had a group of protesters shouting about poor quality coffee, which shop would you go into? I would hazard a guess that like me you would probably head to the shop that is sans protesters. Why? For me a large part would be because it is just plain easier to walk into the shop without the rigmarole of getting past whatever is going on outside, and the other part would be because a tiny hint of doubt would have been planted in my mind about the potential quality of my coffee.
So what does this have to do with social media and the internet? I hear you cry. Plenty, let’s move the situation to the internet. You are searching Google (or Bing) for somewhere to book your next dream holiday. You really want this to be special; you are treating your partner to a trip of a lifetime. You remember hearing about a brand “wwwzholco” (a fake name before you rush off to check!) Now we all know that the world has become quite lazy about typing in domain names, and instead many will often just type the brand into a search box, and why not it makes life easy even if we spell the brand slightly wrong as it offers us the correct term. All is going great you hit search and up pops the brand you have been seeking top of the search results. You are just about to click to go onto their site when what’s this?! Just two results lower than the company result is a travel review site with the headline “wwwzholco bad service!” Now we all know that you are just going to have to go and check this out, especially before you consider parting with that pile of cash burning a hole in your pocket.
On visiting the link you find a forum thread with dozens of comments about people claiming to have had bad service or poor quality holidays from wwwzholco. They may be true, they may not. But the seed is planted in many people’s heads, and they turn away and head for the shop next door. Wouldn’t you?
I have to say that I have only come across this once while working in the search marketing industry and it invokes mixed emotions. Part of me thinks yay! The internet has saved other people from experiencing bad service, power to the people! But the other side thinks wow, this could be terrible. What if the company is poorly represented here? It is often the case that the only noisy customers are unhappy customers and it is very easy on the internet to rally a lynch mob.
Either way, how does the company get over this? They have admitted that it has dented their business significantly and would dearly love to find a way to move such a terrible search result off of the first page of Google (or Bing). It is not like they can ask the search engine to remove it. There are several ways that they can help to move it hopefully, with a strategy of social media profile generation, press releases, blog promotion and many other methods that may help a little. But competing with a large site with good web presence is never going to be easy.
But it just goes to show how social media and bad publicity can really hurt your business. The worrying thing is though, what if someone wanted to do this maliciously? In theory it would only take one person to try to create an online brand dirtying campaign. Has social media given the world a poisoned chalice? As search engines look at even more social media channels and their influences does this make companies and even individuals more vulnerable? What do you think? I would love to know!
Thanks to 10ch for the use of the image.