Our Growing Influence

Photo by Brett Sayles @pexels.com

Change sneaks upon us. When some people pushed back on the invention of the automobile, others embraced it. People eager to drive those new shiny motor cars were of the younger generation. My kids don’t seem to struggle with endless changes coming down the internet pike at 90mph. Their mother wants a lower speed limit except for the one giving more power to the people.

Some of us feel that our voices and opinions don’t matter. When I feel negative, I see it the same way. But this is changing. Democracy has always been about all voices, but in actuality this worthwhile aspiration was impossible to put into practice. Today, the internet is the tool making this a reality. But there is a catch. This power requires us to be attentive and discerning consumers of information, news, service, or products. P.J. O’Rourke phrased our increasing personal power as, “The best bad news ever.” But good or bad, for the foreseeable future, how we spend our dollars and use our fingertips are changing the political and economic landscapes.  

Awareness of social and environmental campaigns on the internet via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram has impacted our lives for the better. When Revlon was called out for using chemicals linked to cancer in its cosmetics, the company yelled, “fake news,” and demanded a retraction and threatened to sue. Instead of following up on its threats, Revlon eliminated the chemicals of concern and published an ingredient policy for the first time. “It is now one of the most comprehensive cosmetic-safety policies,” says Janet Nudelman of the Breast Cancer Fund. Renee Sharp of the Environmental Working Group, which also campaigned against the company, now says of Revlon, “They’re definitely a leader.”

Greenpeace initiated a campaign to stop Shell from improving their image by selling Legos at gas stations. “Shell has launched an invasion of children’s playrooms in order to prop up its public image while threatening the Arctic with a deadly oil spill.” The linchpin was a YouTube video. “Everything is NOT awesome” was viewed by millions.

The Disney company pulled its ads from Tucker Carlson on Fox News after he called the 2020 spring protests against police brutality “riots.” Within hours, T-Mobile followed suit. Days later, in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, North Face, REI, Eddie Bauer, Patagonia, and Magnolia Pictures announced they’d halt all U.S. paid advertising with Facebook and Instagram.

For a place to stay when traveling, Tim is faithful to TripAdvisor.com. Any hotel with less than four stars is not an option. He will drive an extra twenty miles to avoid them. On the theme of “informed,” what do we know about the people rating various hotels? Not much. The internet gives equal voice and weight to all: fault-finders, slanderers, the faithful, and heedful.  

For almost all businesses, happy customers are their first goal, thus the never-ending competition for stars. People’s power is creating seismic changes that can destroy or raise. Our reviews and ratings have an impact, and something we must approach seriously. Going on Next Door and delivering a scathing review because Mr. Smith, the plumber, left a dirty rag and a mess on your floor smears his reputation and his business income can suffer. It doesn’t mean you can’t offer a review, but be sure you operate from informed consciousness instead of a moment of anger. What if Mr. Smith was your brother, how would you critique his work? Word of mouth by dissatisfied customers has a more extended reach and life span.

Again, our growing power comes with responsibilities. Some dishonest people will purposely suggest something is not right. You don’t have to know anything about botany to review, let’s say, Dr. John Smith’s book, Rhododendron in the Himalaya (not a real book). You don’t even have to read the book. Mention your surprise that Dr. Smith makes no mention of the gallica, an important species of in the Rhododendron family. How many people would know that gallica belongs to the rose family? The reviewer’s goal to plant doubt is accomplished. Consequently, botanist enthusiasts may dismiss a well-researched and a credible source that may have taken an author years to write. Fake reviews, according to researchers, positive or negative, tend to be lengthier than authentic reviews, lack specific details, and instead offer opinions and use more exclamation points! 

My knee-jerk was first to check out one-star reviews, which discouraged me from sending them to my cart. Take The Gentleman from Moscow. One reviewer wrote, “it is boring, and nothing important seems to happen. My hair literally went gray, waiting for something of substance…” I’m already gray, but the part about nothing happening, that sounded bad. Another wrote, “It’s pretentious, boring, and full of not just errors, but total impossibilities.” The reviewer doesn’t say what errors or explain the impossibilities, but our mind grabs the negative which weighs far more than many positive comments. 

The Power of Bad, How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It explains that people’s negative bias is so strong that it takes four positive reviews to balance one negative review. An analysis of Amazon and Barnes & Noble affirmed this negative bias. A 1-star review did more to hurt sales than a 5-star review did to boost sales.

Skyscrapers and city noises surround the Casablanca Hotel in midtown Manhattan. Despite the fact it receives many 1-star reviews, it consistently rates as the top or near the top hotel in New York. One reviewer on TripAdvisor.com wrote he was “summarily disappointed” to discover that Times Square is “crass.” His view was that Time Square’s “crassness” was the hotel’s fault. Another customer insisted on a room with a view of the moon. When the hotel couldn’t figure out where the moon would be best sighted that night, the woman stormed off. The Casablanca’s clerk’s ignorance of the lunar trajectory evolved into complaining about the hotel’s overall service. Her review remains on TripAdvisor.com.  

From The Power of Bad: “Blackmailers shakedown hotel managers and restaurateurs by posting a bad review on Trip-Advisor, Yelp, Google, or Facebook, sometimes accompanied by staged photos of dirt or vermin, and then offering to delete it if the bill is waived.” These bad apples are doing so much damage that business researchers refer to them as “terrorists.” A new industry has emerged to help businesses deal with inaccurate and false reviews.

So, how is the Casablanca Hotel winning the star game? Understanding the four good to one bad, they doubled up on all the good they could do. The telephone reservation agents do more than take your booking. They ask the purpose of your visit and what else can be done to enhance your trip. The doorman learns your name, making the hotel your home away from home. The bellhops pay attention to your reaction to the room and report if they have concerns followed by a phone call from the manager. People are less likely to say something negative about a “friend.” Just as doctors who talk the most to their patients are sued less. The Casablanca also responds quickly to any negative reviews with written explanations. But, not everyone can do that. Instead they must rely on our integrity and sense of fairness.

Companies and businesses can no longer afford to stay neutral. They need our loyalty. Their bottom line depends on it.  Individually, we may choose not to rate people, services, and products. That is our prerogative. Millions of people don’t vote. But nothing is changed by complaints and negativity. Our power rests in responding authentically through reviews, and sometimes through protest based on accurate information and sound judgment. It’s how all of us contribute to a better society.