Misinformation during pandemic could be “the difference between life and death”

John Watton, EMEA VP of marketing at Yext, urges businesses to tackle misinformation and build trust between consumer and brand.

Profile image of EMEA VP of Marketing at Yext, John Watton

Brand management company Yext reently hosted a virtual event on misinformation, featuring actress Gillian Anderson. 

The chief data officer for Yext, Christian Ward, began the talk by touching on the importance of trust in search, and the tendency of false information to transmit faster than the truth. This was followed by Yext’s EMEA VP of marketing, John Watton, interviewing Anderson on her acting experiences and the tendency of her on-screen characters to seek the truth.

Watton said the mission of Yext was to help organisations and businesses deliver official answers everywhere people search: “Ultimately, right answers help build trust between consumer and brand,” he said, “and we are at the forefront of building that trust online”.

Despite misinformation being an issue prior to COVID-19, Watton said the pandemic has exacerbated the damage caused to businesses by misinformation. According to Yext’s recent research, entitled ‘Searching For Trust’, 53% of consumers are now more concerned about misinformation than prior to the pandemic.

Watton said: “Coronavirus has completely shifted business models; it has meant that many more companies need to be taking their online channels and functions much more seriously, as this is where people are expecting to get the majority of their information.”

The consumer research report also found that two thirds (66%) of consumers believe misinformation will become more of a problem in the future. “Brands need to therefore take the issue by the scruff of the neck and find a solution that delivers the right answers at the right time,” Watton added.

With half of internet searches made of four or more words, Watton said businesses need to better understand what consumers are searching for, which will aid them in understanding what customers want, when they want it and how they are searching for it. Then, said Watton, “it’s about applying the right answers to the questions across all relevant platforms, including search engines, voice search and brand websites.

“While misinformation is at an all-time high, not least fuelled by the pandemic and the increasing reliance on online functions, businesses need to ensure their answers are aligned, correct and relevant. If they don’t, this could seriously undermine their bottom line.”

Yext recently collaborated with the World Health Organization (WHO) on a COVID-19 search feature with Yext Answers. The feature uses Natural Language Processing to help WHO to identify and understand the types of questions people are asking. On the WHO website, someone can type a question about COVID-19 into the Answers Bar and will receive an answer sourced directly from WHO resources.

A recent survey by Statista showed that in August 2020 about 60% of respondents that had come across “false or misleading information” had seen it at least once per day over the space of a week. Watton said, during a pandemic, this fake and misleading information could be the difference between life and death.

He added: “The quickest way to act is to put search at the heart of your website experience. Customers want instant, accurate answers, straight from the source. If information isn’t available, support costs will go up – and you risk losing revenue due to poor website conversions.

“Encouraging your customers to ask questions on your website also benefits from unprecedented insight into their wants and needs. So put search front and centre on your company website. In the long term, wrong answers will cost customers, but providing consistent information will build trust, cement relationships and boost sales.”

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