Fake Reviews Online – Don’t Believe the Hype

According to a recent study, 83% of consumers say online reviews influence their perception of a company. Positive reviews are critical for doctors, lawyers, small business owners, accountants, consultants, investment professionals, contractors, restaurants and travel and hospitality companies. Many consumers depend on peer reviews to offer an honest assessment of a business. However, many businesses seem to be getting their good reviews the old fashioned way — by cheating.

According to Gartner Inc. as organizations are scrambling “…to garner more positive reviews than their competitors… Many marketers have turned to paying for positive reviews with cash, coupons and promotions, including additional hits on YouTube videos.”

Paying for reviews may be more costly than you think. Aside from the ethical implications and potential public relations fallout, the Federal Trade Commission is becoming more aggressive punishing companies who pay for reviews without adequate disclosure. Gartner reports that “…organizations that opt to pay for phony reviews… have faced both public condemnation as well as monetary fines.” In 2009, the Federal Trade Commission held that paying for positive reviews without disclosing that the reviewer had been compensated equates to deceptive advertising.

Social sites such as Yelp have also been cracking down on companies that post false reviews by putting a customer “beware” label on their sites. Taking cues from this new-found practice of exposing websites that practice “fake reviews” Gartner says that some marketers have taken to policing the web in attempts to make their own companies look more honest and ethical. “Organizations engaging in social media can help to promote trust by openly embracing both positive and negative reviews and leveraging negative reviews as a way to encourage customers with positive product or service experiences to share them on review sites as well,” says Gartner analyst Jenny Sussin.

While many are decrying this recent trend toward “paid” reviews, the practice is not going away anytime soon, in fact, it may be increasing. Gartner says phony reviews will comprise 10 to 15 percent of all reviews by 2014. Analysts also predict that “…increased media attention on fake social media ratings and reviews will result in at least two Fortune 500 brands facing litigation from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over the next two years.”

As an online reputation management company, Reputation Rhino is frequently asked to help improve customer reviews on popular sites like Yelp, Google+ and other popular review sites. The first step is diagnosing the problem. Is there a widespread culture of poor customer service or inferior products or are we dealing with a small percentage of disgruntled customers or clients? If the answer is the former, there is not much a reputation management company can really do. If the latter, an online reputation management firm can help develop an effective and efficient process for obtaining customer reviews and promoting those reviews to the review sites that are likely to have the most impact on the business. It is usually far better to have dozens of positive customer reviews and testimonials across dozens of review sites than to rely solely on a single review site.

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