More than twenty years ago, my brother came to me with a funny story. We were both out of college, married, and getting on with our lives. I had moved away but he was still living in the area where we grew up, and had become friends with one of my high school classmates. As they got to know each other, this classmate of mine carefully asked my brother about me, as if there was something wrong. As the conversation went on, it turned out that this friend had heard a few things about me that concerned him.
When I didn’t show up for my senior year of high school, people began to speculate. The rumors that went around were that either I went nuts and had to be institutionalized, or that I got really messed up on drugs, neither of which was true. In fact, both are pretty laughable. I has a reputation as a very straight edge kid (read: goody two shoes) in high school, that I have never even smoke a single cigarette!
So what happened? Where was I when I should have been in high school?
Well, I skipped my senior year of high school. Because I had completed most of the required coursework, I just went right from 11th grade to college, and the decision to do so was rather last minute, so no one but my closest friends knew where I was. I kept in touch with them via occasional letters, but others bought into the rumors and helped to spread them.
We’ve all done that. We hear rumors about individuals and businesses, and often pass them on to others with the assumption they are true. Sadly, this happens all too often, and I bet a lot of untruths, some of them damaging, are circulating the web.
If this had happened to me today, it would be very easy for me to battle. I would have been connected to my high school classmates on Facebook, and they would have known what was going on in my life. And if the rumors started, I could easily counter them by telling people what I was up to.
By being online and using various social networks, I have the ability to tell my story. In fact, I have the ability to tell it, and retell it, every day. It doesn’t mean the bad stories will go away completely. They will always linger. There are still people who swear up and down that Mikey died after ingesting Coke and Pop Rocks. This is why people continue to forward those crazy emails and perpetuate those crazy stories on Facebook, even though Snopes has disproved them years ago. People like scandal and bad stories.
If you monitor your brand online, you’ll often find these bad things. Often they come in the form of opinion or bad reviews on sites like Yelp or Google+. People post their opinions, and others buy into them, without the benefit of personal experience.
I got caught up in this the other day on Facebook. I was asking people where we could go to get a nice milkshake, and I got lots of responses. One response was for a restaurant I had heard not so great things about. I knew that they had had one of those infamous Facebook blowups where they got into an online rant and battle with some of their patrons who had posted not so nice things about their customer service. And while this was over a year ago, I still remembered this, and it turned me off about the business. Others weighed in telling me they enjoyed the place, and eventually someone else weighed in: the manager of the restaurant. I didn’t realize it, but I am connected on Facebook with the current manager, and he popped in to tell me that whatever happened must have been before his time, and he assured me things were different. In so doing, he told me a part of his business’s story, and now I’m eager to try it out.
It worked. I’ll give them a chance, after having written them off based on things I had seen and heard in the past.
This is why it’s important for a business to tell its story online. And to keep telling it. Not only does it tell people who you are, but it also corrects misinformation and tells them who you aren’t. In fact, every blog post, every status update, every photo, and so on, is a part of telling your story.
We need to tell our stories continuously so that there is no confusion about the facts. Just make sure that the story you tell, matches reality. If the two don’t match, people will call you out on it.
By telling your story day in and day out, and telling it well, you will make it more difficult for false stories and misconceptions to take root and grow. Oh, that will still happen. People will still say bad things and believe bad things, but you can just keep telling your story and pointing them to the truth.
And an important part of telling your story is to listen to the story others are telling about you, so that you can tap into that, and make corrections where needed.