What is Smear Campaign and What Companies Should Do About it?

After Meesho, travel tech startup EaseMyTrip is the latest to be informed about smear campaigns against the companay on Twitter

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In the first week of June, e-commerce unicorn Meesho sent legal notices to some social media influencers for posting negative reviews of the company. Recently, the person who brought to light the smear campaign against Meesho, Ravisutanjani Kumar, vice president, partnerships, Testbook also revealed on Twitter that competitors are defaming travel tech startup EaseMyTrip as well.

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He tweeted saying, "Competitors defaming another Startup. This time it's EaseMyTrip, have always respected EMT & how they built a profitable business. High time when Influencer and Paid Marketing needs to be regulated?" He also shared screenshots of accounts that he calls fake. "Most of the accounts created in June 2022, all-female users, all users defaming EaseMyTrip with the same pattern, promoting Goibibo (competitor)"

Reacting to the same, Nishant Pitti, CEO and co-founder, EaseMyTrip said, "When you are making positive strides, people like to talk about you.We firmly think that because we are all part of the business ecosystem, we should help one another in order to promote the expansion of the entire travel sector and the nation. Hence, we are shocked by these tweets. Although this is undoubtedly disappointing, we will direct our energies on the company's expansion and vision in order to change the tourism industry. But like any other respectable and proud company, we would certainly like to speak out against such despicable acts. We should use social media's ability to change things for the better."

What is a 'smear campaign' and why do companies worry about it

A smear campaign is when false information is shared publicly to damage an individual or a business' reputation. Through the campaign, many false accusations are made and spread as rumors.

Many examples of alleged smear campaigns include US presidential election candidate, General Motors against Ralph Nader, Gary Hart – 1988 US presidential candidate, China against Apple Inc, Sathya Sai Baba, Julian Assange, Chris Bryant, among many others.

In the new-age digital media, often reviews can also be part of a smear campaign. Global companies are working towards putting an end to it. Facebook recently updated its community feedback policy to crack down on user reviews to prevent people from leaving fake feedback on businesses' pages.

"As more people and businesses rely on valuable feedback from customers—such as ratings, reviews, recommendations and questions & answers—we're dedicated to keeping that information relevant and authentic. Today, we're launching a new Community Feedback Policy in the U.S. to clearly share what we allow and prohibit within customer feedback. The new policy was created to ensure that reviews are based on real purchasing experiences, and to keep irrelevant, fraudulent and offensive feedback off of our platforms," it said.

Such campaigns often bring down the company in a big way. Especially in today's age when any decision, be it products to buy or doctors to consult, is decided based on reviews and reputation on social media, such campaigns can cause irreparable damage to the company's name.

How companies should deal with it

While Meesho sent legal notices to some social media influencers for posting negative reviews of the company, EaseMyTrip said it will direct its energies on the company's expansion and vision in order to change the tourism industry.

Is there a right way to deal with this, especially since entrepreneurs are already burdened with multiple things or challenges to deal with?

In the offline world, people would always go by the logic, 'human memory is short' and wait for the news to fade. However, in the online world, it becomes a permanent record for anyone to view or misuse, even years later.

The first thing that experts and brand consultants often advise brands to do is act fast, especially in the times we live in, where any piece of news spreads faster than a forest fire. Some founders or business leaders do not speak up thinking it is not needed as it is anyway a piece of fake news. However, experts say it is important to at least issue a statement. If an explanation or truth is not shared, it can often be perceived as true information.

The second thing one should do is ask their PR team to remind people about all the positive things that the company has been doing. They can also hire a reputation management company. Basically, one should conduct a positive publicity campaign on social media, to negate the damage that has been done.

Meanwhile, another team should be assigned the task of looking for clues from the posts or articles on who is spreading such misinformation. Is it a competitor or is it a customer who intends to threaten in exchange for some money?

Lastly, though the leaders or founders should speak up, they should avoid getting into battles with each and every person who is commenting.