Building Trust: SMEs Strategies for Credibility in the Misinformation Age

Aditi Pangotra and Dr. Brinda Banerjee
Aditi Pangotra and Dr. Brinda Banerjee
Tech Policy and Research,CyberPeace
Jul 4, 2024


The role of ‘Small and Medium Enterprises’ (SMEs) in the economic and social development of the country is well established. The SME sector is often driven by individual creativity and innovation. With its contribution at  8% of the country’s GDP, and 45% of the manufactured output and 40% of its exports, SMEs provide employment to about 60 million persons through over 26 million enterprises producing over six thousand products. 

It would be an understatement to say that the SMEs sector in India is highly heterogeneous in terms of the size of the enterprises, variety of products and services produced and the levels of technology employed. With the SME sector booming across the country, these enterprises are contributing significantly to local, state, regional and national growth and feeding into India’s objectives of inclusive, sustainable development. 

As the digital economy expands, SMEs cannot be left behind and must integrate online to be able to grow and prosper. This development is not without its risks and cybersecurity concerns and digital threats like misinformation are fast becoming a pressing pain point for the SME sector. The unique challenge posed to SMEs by cyber threats is that while the negative consequences of digital risks are just as damaging for the SMEs as they are for larger industries, the former’s ability to counter these threats is not at par with the latter, owing to the limited nature of resources at their disposal. The rapid development of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence makes it easier for malicious actors to develop bots, deepfakes, or other forms of manipulated content that can steer customers away from small businesses and the consequences can be devastating. 

Misinformation is the sharing of inaccurate and misleading information, and the act can be both deliberate and unintentional. Malicious actors can use fake reviews, rumours, or false images to promote negative content or create backlash against a business’ brand and reputation. For a fledgling or growing enterprise, its credibility is a critical asset and any threat to the same is as much a cause for concern as any other operational hindrance. 

Relationship Building to Counter Misinformation

We live in a world that is dominated by brands. A brand should ideally inspire trust. It is the single most powerful and unifying characteristic that embodies an organisation's culture and values and once well-established, can create incremental value. Businesses report industry rumours where misinformation resulted in the devaluation of a product, sowing mistrust among customers, and negatively impacting the companies’ revenue. Mitigating strategies to counter these digital downsides can include implementing greater due diligence and basic cyber hygiene practices, like two-factor or multi-factor authentication, as well as open communication of one’s experiences in the larger professional and business networks. 

The loss of customer trust can be fatal for a business, and for an SME, the access to the scale of digital and other resources required to restore reputations may simply not be a feasible option. Creating your brand story is not just the selling pitch you give to customers and investors, but is also about larger qualitative factors such as your own motivation for starting the enterprise or the emotional connection your audience base enjoys with your organisation. The brand story is a mosaic of multiple tangible and intangible elements that all come together to determine how the brand is perceived by its various stakeholders. Building a compelling and fortified brand story which resonates deeply with people is an important step in developing a robust reputation. It can help innoculate against several degrees of misinformation and malicious attempts and ensure that customers continue to place their faith in the brand despite attempts to hurt this dynamic.

Engaging with the target audience, ie, the customer base is part of an effective marketing tool and misinformation inoculation strategy. SMEs should also continuously assess their strategies, adapt to market changes, and remain agile in their approach to stay competitive and relevant in today's dynamic business environment. These strategies will lead to greater customer engagement through the means of feedback, reviews and surveys which help in building trust and loyalty. Innovative and dynamic customer service engages the target audience and helps in staying in the competition and being relevant.

Crisis Management and Response

Having a crisis management strategy is an important practice for all SMEs and should be mandated for better policy implementation. Businesses need greater due diligence and basic cyber hygiene practices, like two-factor authentication, essential compliances, strong password protocols, transparent disclosure, etc. 

The following steps should form part of a crisis management and response strategy:

  • Assessing the damage by identifying the misinformation spread and its impact is the first step.  
  • Issuing a response in the form of a public statement by engaging the media should precede legal action. 
  • Two levels of communication need to take place in response to a misinformation attack. The first tier is internal, to the employees and it should clarify the implications of the incident and the organisation’s response plan. The other is aimed at customers via direct outreach to clarify the situation and provide accurate information in regard to the matter.  If required the employees can be provided training related to the handling of the customer enquiries regarding the misinformation.
  • The digital engagement of the enterprise should be promptly updated and social media platforms and online communications must address the issue and provide clarity and factual information. 
  • Immediate action must include a plan to rebuild reputations and trust by ensuring customers of the high quality of products and services. The management should seek customer feedback and show commitment to improving processes and transparency. Sharing positive testimonials and stories of satisfied customers can also help at this stage. 
  • Engaging with the community and collaborating with organisations is also an important part of crisis management.

While these steps are for rebuilding and crisis management, further steps also need to be taken:

  • Monitoring customer sentiment and gauging the effectiveness of the efforts taken is also necessary. And if required, strategic adjustments can be made in response to the evolving circumstances. 
  • Depending on the severity of the impact, management may choose to engage the professional help of PR consultants and crisis management experts to develop comprehensive recovery plans and help navigate the situation.
  • A long-term strategy which focuses on building resilience against future attacks is important. Along with this, engaging in transparency and proactive communication with stakeholders is a must.

Legal and Ethical Considerations

SMEs administrators must prioritise ethical market practices and appreciate that SMEs are subject to laws which deal with defamation, intellectual property rights- trademark and copyright infringement in particular, data protection and privacy laws and consumer protection laws. Having the knowledge of these laws and ensuring that there is no infringement upon the rights of other enterprises or their consumers is integral in order to continue engaging in business legally. 

Ethical and transparent business conduct includes clear and honest communication and proactive public redressal mechanisms in the event of misinformation or mistakes. These efforts go a long way towards building trust and accountability. 

Proactive public engagement is an important step in building relationships. SMEs can engage with the community where they conduct their business through outreach programs and social media engagement. Efforts to counter misinformation through public education campaigns that alert customers and other stakeholders about misinformation serve the dual purpose of countering misinformation and creating deep community ties. SME administrators should monitor content and developments in their markets and sectors to ensure that their marketing practices are ethical and not creating or spreading misinformation, be it in the form of active sensationalising of existing content or passive dissemination of misinformation created by others. Fact-checking tools and expert consultations can help address and prevent a myriad of problems and should be incorporated into everyday operations.


Developing strong cybersecurity protocols, practising basic digital hygiene and ensuring regulatory compliances are crucial to ensure that a business not only survives but also thrives. Therefore, a crisis management plan and trust-building along with ethical business and legal practices go a long way in ensuring the future of SMEs.  In today's digital landscape, misinformation is pervasive, and trust has become a cornerstone of successful business operations. It is the bedrock of a resilient and successful SME. By implementing and continuously improving trust-building efforts, businesses can not only navigate the challenges of misinformation but also create lasting value for their customers and stakeholders. Prioritising trust ensures long-term growth and sustainability in an ever-evolving digital landscape.


Jul 4, 2024
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