I could not start this blog post without mentioning my deep sorrow for those lives lost in Japan due to the earthquake and tsunami. The news is devastating and I am very sad for this amazing country. However, if there is a country with the ability to come together to move forward, Japan is the one with the finest reputation for preparedness and commitment to the community.
I wanted to share some research I read about in The Economist on the wisdom of debunking company myths and rumors online. If you are a regular reader of my work, you have heard me mention that I think it is a good idea to refute rumors about your company and its products if they become too prominent online and spiral out of control. However, researchers at Kellogg’s School of Management and Stanford Business School found that it actually hurts to repeat rumors on a company web site. They found that by highlighting the myths on company web sites (in order to explain why they are wrong), the rumors are actually propagated, not diminished. I think that there is always a risk to communicating about the negative but that companies need to join the conversation about hearsay that harms their company or their brands’ reputation. Being silent in some cases can cause even more damage because of the inaction and going on the record with the facts. Of course, the art to disclosure is knowing when to address myths and rumors and when enough is enough. That requires constant monitoring online to know when hearsay is spiraling out of control.
I do agree with the researchers, however, that when companies repeat myths and rumors that are circulating online, it increases the likelihood that search engines will pick them up and give the rumors greater prominence in the search rankings. But as the article itself notes, the antidote to hearsay is making sure that there are good things also being said about your company to counter the negative ones. As the researchers say, the positive facts “nudges people to doubt nasty things they may hear about the company in question.” Therefore countering the rumors and complementing them with good information on what the company is doing or the brand is promising and delivering should work in your favor.
Ultimately, it is maintaining the right amount of the good stuff to counter the bad stuff. And knowing when it is the right time and right place to speak up and stop rumors in their tracks.