The virtual world is just a computer or smart phone screen away from us. These days, that virtual world travels with us everywhere we go, even deep into nature where nothing man made is visible for miles. Reality in the virtual world is malleable. Form, fit and function as well as visual representation can be modified to make even the most fantastical representations seem real. Symbols become meaning that often cannot even be explained in words or text. Seemingly realistic videos can be complete fabrications. Photos can be altered so convincingly that people believe that the content is real. Reams of lies, fabrications and falsity can be written, published and absorbed by millions within hours.
Business is very interested in using the internet to change or alter perceptions of reality. In one study, people associated certain brands with sustainability, or “green” activity. In reality, there was not a lot of agreement between the actual “green” contributions that were associated with a brand and the public perception of the brand’s sustainability.
These days, sustainability is a major factor in customer choice. It is a true gift to be able to have a higher perception of sustainability than actually exists. As a result, major companies work to get sustainable marketing information about their sustainable initiatives and plans publicized through social networking, blogs, news releases, advertising and other internet content. Whether they are actually carrying out the initiatives is another reality that people do not follow up on in order to verify the claims.
The result? People eventually incorporate the marketing content and to consider it to be reality without checking further to see if the “initiatives”, “plans” and “programs” are actually being done! Other areas of satisfaction with the product or firm will make it easier for the public to accept the information as reality and to incorporate it into their overall image of the firm.
In another area of altering perceptions of realilty, a corporation that is having image problems can use any number of undetectable web tactics to send out positive or corrective information that is percieved to be real fact. An employee can pose as an average worker, but can really be assigned to send out “scripts” to Twitter, Facebook, forum and blog comments.
These faked “scripts” can appear to be the honest, heartfelt testimony of a loyal employee or an average citizen, but can actually be quite carefully crafted and successful in positively altering perceptions about the corporation. Of course, these tactics have to be bolstered by existing customer satisfaction and loyalty to sustain a company through hard times. A company that has disappointed its customers in many ways will not be quite as successful in altering perceptions through planted information during an image crisis.
In smaller business issues, there is increasing use of such business finding services as Yelp, Geodelic, Urbanspoon and Google Places. These services include reviews that can give a potential customer varying forms of reality: that the place is good, bad, or that there are no reviews, making it uncharted territory. The benefit, however, is that the advertising and claims of the business owners are not the only sources of information. The services thus give the perception that information from real insiders or customers is better than going it alone.
Finally, political groups and entities are the perception as reality gurus. From scripted talking points, instructions to hundreds of millions about what to think and say to complete lies, the perceptions of the voting public are being altered in alarming ways. Political perception alteration has managed to convince millions that the President is either a Muslim or that they do not know what his religion is. The same groups have managed to keep the completely debunked “birther” doubts active in the public mind.
The “Pimpgate” and Shirley Sherrod scandals came from video “evidence” that was clearly altered and faked, but which caused immediate national firestorms of outrage, a job loss and even congressional action. Even after the scams were uncovered, the excuse making, denial and aggressive attacks continue.
The future of business, social political perception and reality management through every form of internet communication, especially social networking is one that is being incorporated into marketing programs in ways that will continue to manufacture altered perceptions of reality for millions of people around the globe.
The point about reality perception management through the internet is that this phenomena applies to anything, from an idea, to a belief, to a brand, to a product. False realities can be made convincing and real when the truth is something else entirely. As a result, many social and political dangers exist. When people find that their perceptions have been played with to their detriment and without their knowledge, the negative response can be enormous.