The Paradox of Choice & Online Reputation Management

oIt is a common misconception that the internet gives you an abundance of choice. There is a small part of me that enjoys thinking that only “old people” who did not grow up with the internet would think something like that, but this is far from the truth. Honestly, it could not be more incorrect—the internet does not give you choice.

The Internet Does not Give you Choice!

The examplburger2e is simple. As of writing this post I have searched a simple food in Google: burger. The great Google machine has given me 95,900,000 results in 0.37 seconds. There is no possible way I can equally evaluate all of those 95 million results to find the burger that is the best for me. Even if I try to narrow it down to “best burgers in Saskatoon,” I come up with 160,000 results—still far too many to choose from. This is a perfect example of the paradox of choice.

Ample opportunity of choice can cause regret from choosing poorly, loss of presence, raised expectations, as well as an inability to make proper discussions because the quantity of choice is so overwhelming. Who in their right mind can admit that they actively explore the second page of Google? Not many people. The paradox of choice is strongly evident in the online world we play in. See the paradox? An abundance of choice leaves you with no real choice at all.

A Warm Welcome to the Magic Seven

What is going to solve this problem? The Magic Seven. Magic Seven is one of the most recycled ideas in common psychology. First published in 1956 by psychologist George Miller, it has been reused so often because it is very, very true. The concept is simple; the number of objects an average human can hold in their working memory is seven, plus or minus two. If this is the case, there is no hope for a regular person like me to truly evaluate 160,000 options. I need seven options to make a decision that is both informed and accurate. Google has taken this knowledge and implemented it in their search, which they naturally call, “The Magic Seven.”

You may already be familiar with Google’s version of the Magic Seven, especially in regards to ranking restaurants in a local arealocation. Let’s stick with looking for the best burgers in Saskatoon for a moment. In that specific search, four burger joints popped up on the first page of Google, and they all included the following: name of the business, website, address, phone number, hours of operation and visible reviews. Right beside them was a map of my city with dots corresponding to the highlighted stores in the search. Notice how the number of burger joints I found follows the Magic Seven rule. What Google's Magic Seven will enable us all to do is make faster and smarter decisions when we search online.

Why Reputation Management is Important

What we as consumers are doing now when we search online is outsourcing the due diligence of research to other people that have experienced the service of the business we are searching for. Their honesty speaks more volume than any other secondary research someone could ever find, and it is more effective than any ad a company can pay for. Google's Magic Seven attempts to destroy the paradox of choice you have when searching on the internet, whether you are aware of the paradox or not.

This is the heart of online reputation management. Making sure your business is visible online is one thing, but making sure your business is viewed positively online is another ballgame. To do the latter you need robust software to build and manage your online reputation, as well as good quality customer service and an amazing product.

Sure this is evident with restaurants, but soon this type of online competition will be applied to every type of service imaginable—auto-dealers, lawyers, schools, universities, retail stores, etc. If I need an accountant, why wouldn’t I just Google “the best accountant in my city?” This is not like the yellow pages anymore, where the flashiest and the largest ad would win. The business that gets the client in this situation is the one that won with an instant, fair and equal comparison of price and service, all of which happens in 10 seconds or less. This is not competition, this is ultra competition, and if your business is not ready for this right now then you should get on board as soon as you can.

Your Opinion is Valid!

This may sound like an odd point now, but there was a time when every opinion was not valid. There was a politically correct phrase that goes something like this: “Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.” However, that does not mean that every opinion has validity. Validity and entitlement are two different things. Let me explain. The Caveman is entitled to his opinion that the stars are ancient gods. However, because of his experience and expertise, Neil deGrasse Tyson has more validity when talking about CCD photometric observations of the minor axis of the galactic bulge. Both of these people I just mentioned are talking about stars in the sky, but it is fairly clear that Neil’s opinion has validity that the caveman lacks.

What the mass distribution of the internet has done is made opinions of cavemen valid. Almost anyone can post a comment through a social media medium, and checking the validity and honest credentials of people are becoming more difficult than ever. If the internet has not already, it soon will make the opinion of everyone on the planet valid. This is bad not only for businesses, but for all organizations, charities and even individuals that, well, interact with other people. They are going to need ways and means to aggregate and identify the cavemen, while giving the people like Neil a mega phone. A failure in this endeavor will lead to negative reviews, lackluster customer or client retention and slowing revenue. Why? Because regular people searching for your business online will unknowingly taking star advice from cavemen. That is again where online reputation management can come in and solve this problem.

In The End…

The paradox of choice and the validity of all opinions, which the internet has enabled, is a major societal and business problem. However, solutions are quickly being both provided and implemented. The same thing that created this massive paradox of choice, the internet, is also attempting to solve the problem. But I do find it odd. It is almost a paradox within itself. The internet is attempting to solve the issues of massive, specialized and targeted data by aggregating more massive, specialized and targeted data to narrow down the choices. A paradox alleviating a paradox. Now that is something so cool it almost deserves a fancy name of its own… I just call it online reputation management.

If you want a demo of Reputation Management, sign up for a free trial!

If you want to learn more about The Paradox of Choice read the book: “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less” By Barry Schwartz. If you want to read the original Magic Seven article first published by George Miller in the Psychological Review click this link. And if you want to read the thesis Neil deGrasse Tyson wrote entitled “A study of the abundance distributions along the minor axis of the Galactic bulge” you can view the abstract and find more information that can help you read the whole thing here.

About the Author

Michael Tastad is a former Partner Development Manager at Vendasta, who drinks an obscene amount of green tea and absorbs political information as fast as he closes deals (super fast).

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