Feature September 1, 2011 by
By Tom Venetis, Editor
Bad publicity has a way of sticking around
There is an old expression that says a rumor lasts sixty days. After a time, a rumor simply fades away as other bits of gossip or news pushes it aside. Today, a rumor may stay around longer than sixty days, aided by social media, Web sites and...
There is an old expression that says a rumor lasts sixty days. After a time, a rumor simply fades away as other bits of gossip or news pushes it aside. Today, a rumor may stay around longer than sixty days, aided by social media, Web sites and comments on online forums. The recent troubles surrounding Toyota and its alleged unintended acceleration problems is a good example. After much study by a wide range of authorities, including engineers at NASA and the U.S.-based National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, no evidence of mechanical problems have been found in the vehicles alleged to have experienced unintended acceleration. All evidence points to driver error as the likely source. That should have put the issue to bed . . . except that it has not. Even a cursory search on the Internet will find hundreds of sites, forums and discussions that claim the issue is real and either the company or the government is covering-up the problem. People will nit-pick the various investigations, question the integrity of those conducting the research, point to rumors of ‘mysterious recalls’ of Toyota vehicles or simply say that one should not believe anything the government says, because it is the government! One fellow added that the moon landings were also fake, shot in secret at a warehouse at Area 51 by Stanley Kubrick (the moon landing and Kubrick hoax rumor is a rather popular one). It is easy to dismiss all this as lawyers looking to make a buck through ongoing lawsuits or the ranting of cranks. For Toyota, it is one more headache as it tries to recover lost sales and prestige amongst car buyers. There are lessons here for independents. The Internet offers a great many advantages, from boosting the business’ profile and improved interactions with customers through pre-booking appointments to answering vehicle questions online and providing helpful educational materials on such things as the importance of regular vehicle maintenance. The downside is one bad customer or slipped-up service can cascade into an on-going online public relations nightmare of bad publicity and rumor. One sour review can circulate for years, turning away potential new business. I’ve come across reviews of restaurants and independent service shops where a less-than-stellar comment three years back from one customer is cited and circulated by another as evidence of how lousy the business is and why it must be avoided at all costs. In the United States, there is a growing business of protecting online reputations, for example, doctors who now have to contend with online sites that allow patients to rate them and leave comments. Independents that use the Web and social media have to be aware of how quickly a reputation can be sullied by unsubstantiated rumors or negative review. Time must be set aside to maintain the business’ reputation online, replying to negative comments or challenging a rumor that has begun to circulate. It needs to be part of the business routine, just as it is answering a customer email or service calls. Neglecting it is only to invite trouble.