Online, honesty is the best policy

Tyrone is a hapless chap in the British soap opera, Coronation Street. In the latest storyline he is in trouble because he is not telling his wife-to-be the entire truth. She is putting two and two together and coming up with the wrong answer.

If only he told her that he was spending his spare time trying to sell cheap tat in a bid to raise some extra cash so they can have a perfect wedding. Instead, he has invented this cock and bull story about going to the gym. Now Tyrone has obviously eaten a pie or two in his life and so the gym story doesn’t convince his fiancée – and now she suspects he is having an affair. If only he had been honest….

Now, what, you might ask, has this to do with the Internet? Well, recent research suggests that the credibility of your web site has a great deal to do with the honesty of your marketing messages. Researchers at the Chung-Ang University in Seoul, Korea, have found a link between word of mouth messaging and the perception of your web site.

What the study showed was the fact that word of mouth messages about your online business (such as those that might appear in blogs or social networking sites) only help build credibility if they are not always positive. In other words, if all the messages people hear about your business are positive, they tend not to believe them. In contrast, if there are also negative messages about your online business, the credibility of your site goes up.

Many web site owners try to shine a positive light on every aspect of their web site and their entire online presence. But this research suggests it might work against you. Just as Coronation Street’s Tyrone is trying to sell a positive line in the hope it will divert his girlfriend away from a potential negative, the perception is that there must be something wrong.

When all people hear about you is entirely positive they smell a rat. So, it seems you will boost your credibility online if you do allow some negatives to be said about you. Honesty, it seems, is valued by your customers and potential customers – now why should we be surprised by that?

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