This can’t be real.

Surely, this must be real.

Last week, a delusional, gullible moron entered Comet Pizzeria in Washington, D.C. with a loaded AR-15 rifle to “self-investigate” a recent news story about a potential child-sex-ring hidden in the basement. The story had long been debunked as a total fake. Regardless, three shots were fired, thankfully nobody was hurt, and the man was arrested a short while later – apparently pleased with the outcome of his “personal investigation.” Comet Pizzeria is still struggling to come to grips with this new reality of daily death threats and significant reputational damage – even though they did absolutely nothing wrong.

All the fake news that is fit to print seems to be impacting people all over the world. Ironically, fake news has been a hot topic in the traditional media over the past few months, and there’s a valuable lesson here that we all need to watch for.

On the surface, many of you, and many of my clients are in businesses where word-of-mouth rules the roost. It’s the stories told by others–about your company–that allow your businesses to grow and thrive. But could those same stories do equal harm? Could those same stories stunt your growth? Could fake stories be spread about you and your company damaging the reputation you’ve worked so hard to build?

Of course, they could. You’ve likely all heard the horror stories in the service & hospitality industries where competitors have posted negative and scathing untruths about a direct competitor.

You can even buy your own fake news. I’ve received multiple solicitations to buy my spot on the New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller lists with both of my books. It’s being done each and every day. Many of the books on your nightstand wouldn’t be there if that author hadn’t written a fat check.

Who can your prospects and customers believe when it’s hard to believe anything anymore?

Are they going to believe you and your carefully crafted copy, collateral, and sales messaging? Maybe. It might sway the first sale, but you likely won’t get you the fifth or sixth sale.

Are they going to believe your testimonials and case studies? Perhaps. But even those have been carefully crafted. You’re likely not going to post the case studies about projects that didn’t go as planned. I try to take a proactive stance by urging my potential clients to call some of my existing clients before working with me, but even that could be rigged.

There’s only one solution. To forge on and show up when you’re expected to show up. To deliver both what & when you’re expected to deliver. But most importantly, to ensure the stories your customers are telling are accurate, truthful, and the ones you want them spreading. You don’t create fake news, but you still need to create YOUR news.

Stories in the internet age-both good and bad–can spread faster and wider than ever before. What’s the story your customers are telling about you, and who are they telling? How often?

It’s why passive referral systems are the worst, and hoping people spread the word–just because they gave you 8s on NPS scores – is a foolish business practice. You need to control the stories being told, and just because someone gave you a 7,8,9 or 10, doesn’t mean they wake up each morning ready to give you referrals and word-of-mouth.

Real referral systems are only going to become more and more important in 2017 and beyond, because as some companies fight to counter fake bad news with fake good news (and reviews), customers will increasingly become even more receptive to the influence of their friends and neighbors and colleagues. That means that companies who have done the work helping their clients tell great stories about them will be the real winners of the fake news wars.

Your Challenge For This Week – Call two or three of your best clients and ask them to answer following question: “If you were to refer us, what would you say and how would you describe us?”

Don’t let them simply say that you provide great service or meet their expectations, or that you’re easy to work with, and they’re happy working with you – blah, blah, blah. Ask them to describe you, in detail, and explain what it’s like to work with you. Ask them to explain exactly how you meet their expectations. Push back and don’t accept a fluffy response.

We’re living in a time where it’s important than ever before that your story cuts through the noise and sticks. If you want my help doing this for your organization in 2017, get in touch and let’s talk about how we can make headlines in the eyes of your current and prospective customers.

Because no news is never good news.

P.S. I’ve got a ton of great stuff coming down the pike in the new year from live streaming to webinars to various live events across the US & Canada. 2017 is going to be a great year, and I’m grateful to have you as a part of my community.