We all experienced, a few months ago, the rapid spread of the swine flu alarm that peaked at the end of April 2009, creating a temporary crash in the stock market and widespread panic buying for medication, protection masks and foodstuff.
The scare not only caused a 5% two-day slump in some stock markets, it also affected the general morale of the population creating a further setback in the world’s shaky path to economic recovery.
The internet played a major role in the hyping of this particular scare!
Conspiracy discussion forums all over the web were flashing with pandemic alarm signals forecasting the approaching doom. For the uninformed: You should know that conspiracy forums can clock-in 50,000 to 100,000 visitors a day. They are also used by the mass media as a barometer and an alternative source of often unverified information.
During the weekend that preceded the temporary crash in stock indexes attributed to the swine flu scare, posters on the conspiracy sites were raving about the pandemic and at the mass media for playing it down. As a direct result of the weekend internet hype, the mass media responded on the Monday and we were suddenly confronted with a worldwide scare, causing the closure of many schools in the US as the sad death to swine flu of one unfortunate toddler in Texas obliterated the normal 20,000 deaths and 100,000 hospitalisations of American citizens attributed to seasonal human flu since the beginning of 2009. (Source CDC, 2008-2009 flu season)
In spite of all the fantastic advantages it brings to global business and the population in general, the internet is also a dangerous media tool that puts the power of global communication into the hands of every crackpot in any corner of the planet who has access to a web-connected computer.
Ever since I started using the internet in 1994, I have always focused on staying informed with what was being written about the brands I was managing.
A simple search of your brand name on a search engine such as Google can bring up thousands of links, many of them leading to fishing forums. It is sometimes necessary to register as a member; once this is done, you will usually has access to the forum’s own search engine which leads you to the topics and posts where your product or your brand is being discussed.
Why I say the internet is a dangerous tool is because as marketing companies, we have absolutely no control of what is being written about our products in the largest media in the world.
Of course, we are always attempting to evaluate consumer acceptance; we surf the web in order to find out if anyone is speaking glowingly of our product or better; recommending it to other fellow anglers.
It is usually distressing for us to unearth negative comments, especially when these are not explainable or justifiable.
It is just too easy nowadays for anyone to spread harmful comments directly on the internet; comments that will then linger for months and years even if removed by the author, loitering forever in the mirror sites and the caches as they spread their harm around the globe.
_Let’s imagine a consumer who purchases an expensive rod from an internet mail order company at the cheapest price he can find on the web.
_Through blatant misuse, he breaks the same rod while attempting to dislodge his line from the rocks by exercising excessive pressure on the blank.
_Knowing he will get no service from the mail order company, he approaches his local dealer requesting a guarantee and claiming the rod just broke during a normal cast.
_He may need to approach many retailers as many may refuse the service as he did not purchase the rod in their shop. They may not even be customers of the national distributor.
_After 3 or 4 attempts, the irate consumer will generally post a topic on his favourite fishing forum, venting his furore at the poor quality of the rod he acquired, forgetting how it broke and furthermore blaming the brand for its rotten after sales service.
Not only has this consumer damaged your brand’s reputation in the various shops where he made his claim, he may also have discouraged any potential buyer present in those shops at the time. The problem may then become public on the fishing forums where thousands may take his comments for granted.
A situation totally out of the control of the brand and that may result in un-assessable losses in turnover.
Sometimes, the problems worsen:
_Imagine that an unscrupulous competitor of yours has sussed out the internet for his own benefit and established a small network of friends who are regular posters on multiple fishing forums under multiple nicknames.
_These chaps will usually speak glowingly of the brand that feeds them and generally discourage any normal angler or newcomer from purchasing any other brand or product, participating in the spreading of negative rumours resulting again in un-assessable losses.
We also have no control on the forums themselves and on their administrators or owners. These dictate their rule without any supervision of any kind.
Once more, if the forum administrators are unscrupulous, your brand name may never even be allowed to appear in discussions as any poster may be banned and impeded from spreading anything else than the good word according to the administrator’s own evaluation.
I can only recommend you to stay informed on what is being said about your product in the forums.
There are tools such as Google Alerts that can help you stay up to date.
If you cannot permanently keep an eye on the web, make sure you appoint some people who can.
If you are not ready to appoint your team of supporters you can at least exercise some kind of damage control.
Deregulationists may argue: “The market rules!” but it would seem that at the moment, on the internet, there are: “No rules”.