Social media is shaping younger generations in ways no one could have ever expected, the internet is defining the future of the way we shop, as well as the way we do business, while The Internet of Things impacts the places we live and the ways in which we learn.

YouTube, in particular, has had a massive impact on just about every aspect of society. Arguably one of the greatest achievements of the Information Age, YouTube layers every part of modern life on top of each other and allows users to interact with a unimaginably huge variety of information.

But, as this rapidly expanding socio-technological evolution continues, we must also be aware of the potentially damaging ways it can impact on our day-to-day lives. One of the most prominent of these is fake news. Suggested by some to be one of the defining features of the current Information Age, fake news had a major impact on the world in 2016 and has gone from strength to strength ever since.

But why is fake news, or misinformation, potentially so dangerous to business? Is it possible to protect your company? Or even harness the publicity to your benefit?


The Negative Impact of Misinformation

They say that all publicity is good publicity, but does this mantra still stand true in an age of misinformation? Unfortunately, this is becoming increasingly difficult to believe. While fake news that slanders a certain individual (as seen during the recent general election campaigns) could be seen as beneficial, once an entire industry falls victim to misinformation, any ‘benefit' soon disappears.

Those most at risk are smaller businesses, or those with no budget for advertising. As almost every company has an online presence today, this is where misinformation can have the biggest impact on your profits. Whether it's an eCommerce business or not, a website exists to increase your company's overall visibility. If Google is cluttered with content that misinforms potential customers or pushes your website further down the page rankings, this can reduce visibility and traffic of your site.

Ultimately, misinformation has the ability to heavily reduce the traffic (and even conversion rates) of your website. While some might not consider this important to the running of their business, for many small businesses and startups, the negative effects of misinformation are impossible to ignore.


Case Study: Misinformation and the E-Cigarette Industry

As the founder of an e-cigarette eCommerce business, I have a working understanding of how misinformation can hold back an entire industry. Since Electric Tobacconist LTD began in 2013, vaping has increased in popularity across the globe. However, it is often easier to find information on the reported ‘negative' effects of electronic cigarettes, rather than the positives that have fuelled this industry's incredible growth.. And I'm not referring to fact-based, well-researched arguments; the majority of content you'll find is of a sensationalist, exaggerated nature, designed to mislead and misinform.

Using Buzzsumo as a research tool, we can search for the popularity of articles using certain keywords. Most of the top-ranking articles using the phrase "e-cigarette" in the title are written to shock readers into believing that vaping is harmful. Meanwhile, articles such as this one receive little interest, even though they use scientific research as a foundation for their content.

Not only are e-cigarettes the preferred choice of tobacco cessation device in the UK; brands expend plenty of resources into producing state-of-the-art technology, like with the latest SMOK Procolor. This is an industry which understands the value of user experience and does not seek to simply mass produce products for the sake of profit.


How You Can Protect Your Business

It is illegal to advertise e-cigarettes in the UK, yet unfortunately, it is not illegal to discredit them in national newspapers. Because of this, I have had to be more considered in the way that I promote my business and rise above the misinformation that surrounds the industry. Fortunately for those who cannot afford large advertising or pay-per-click budgets, your businesses could use similar strategies to help protect it from misinformation.

One of the most important parts of this strategy is search engine optimisation. SEO allows you to increase the visibility and traffic of your website, giving you a better chance to compete for the first page of Google for keyword-based search queries. One of the primary weapons in your SEO arsenal is a blog. Writing a blog for your business website gives you a platform on which to increase your keyword relevance, but it can also work to help deconstruct the myths that misinformation has labelled you with.

Misinformation is most prominent online, which is why the best way to protect your business against it is by combatting it face-to-face. It's unlikely you will ever be able to erase the harmful content from the internet, so you have to do the next best thing and make your businesses more relevant, more interesting and more visible than the fake news itself!


Author Bio: Pascal Culverhouse is the founder and CEO of Electric Tobacconist LTD. From running a successful eCommerce business which sells tobacco cessation devices in both the UK and the US, Pascal has first-hand experience of the importance of information and how it can best represent your business online.