As the Rolling Stones once put in their song title, “You can’t always get what you want.” And this is true; especially when it comes to trusting what we see on social media. Consumers rely on business’ reputations and businesses in turn rely on reputation management.
Reputation management has become the big buzzword in social media and social commerce these days. And for good reason: businesses can’t afford to not be concerned about reputation management and consumer trust. For example, just look at what has happened with Chipotles in recent weeks. Its stock price – excuse my pun – is literally in the toilet over a series of food poisoning outbreaks. The financial consequences of bad press are huge.
So what is a CEO to do? Lots of social media managers promise to deliver positive reputations, taking advantage of a general trend in technology: B2B businesses and consumers giving up freedom and choice in return for reliability and ease of use. Guess what happens when our choices diminish, and this commercial monstrosity is allowed to ever so slightly manipulate the marketplace? People can often game the system to the point where we can’t trust anything.
For example, I tried to purchase a used tablet computer on eBay recently. But for each and every one I tried to buy for less than $100 from that specific seller, there was a bidder who outbid me at the last second. I checked this buyer’s history, and apparently he likes this seller, because he has only ever bid on this seller’s items, has over 2500 bids in the last 30 day’s and 250 bid retractions in the same period. How come the seller never blocked him for not completing the sale? Obviously this person was the seller’s shill.
I attempted to report this to eBay, but their policies on shills appear to be pretty lax: their position seems to be that eventually the seller will want to sell the item. I am not alone about this as there is a lot of chatter about this very issue on eBay’s own forums. My opinion is that since eBay makes a good commission on each sale, the higher the item’s price, the more money eBay makes. Shills are good for eBay’s business model, but not so good for consumers, and they really have no effect on the seller’s reputation.
I also had a situation involving another reputation management behemoth the other day, Amazon.com, when a series of new hard drives I purchased all failed. You wouldn’t know that this vendor had these kind of quality issues from reading the reviews. Even though Amazon has been cracking down on phony reviewers lately, if a manufacturer really wanted to game the system, it would not be inconceivable for a flood of hired hands to respond to specific negative reviews or praise what a great experience they had with the vendor.
I am not suggesting that there is any immoral or illegal behavior taking place here. This type of stuff has been occurring since the first wheel was honed out of stone. So what is the answer to this hodge-podge of trust issues? One promising strategy is the blockchain, a distributed but tamper-resistant sequential log of transactions that guards against fraud. Quoting Bruce Fenton, the executive director of the Bitcoin Foundation, “The blockchain is basically the world’s greatest ledger… it’s open source and public… yet also protects the privacy of users. This is an amazing new invention that solves an age-old problem of having to rely on trusted third parties. The implications are massive.”
The challenge with blockchain goes back to our love of convenience. That is what makes us love these centralized monstrosities. But in this case, our instincts about fairness and freedom may ultimately allow technology to overtake their inherent financial, social, and political barriers in favor of new and emerging decentralized technologies.
So, what does this mean for you, your company, and its reputation management?
Be first, be the best, or be nowhere is the harsh reality of today’s high tech business environment. But in the future we will have to build our reputations in the open, thanks to disruptive technology, and you will need a new strategy to move your company to the head of the pack. C-Level suites and executive boards need a clear vision and an actionable plan to leverage this burgeoning decentralized technology to future-proof and insure corporate success.