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Should we trust online reviews?

It is no secret that online reviews are often – to say the least – imprecise, if not deliberately untrue and misleading. Sometimes they are not impartial, sometimes they are the result of competitors’ attempts to damage other businesses (see the The Fireworks Restoration Company v. Hosto case, for instance), while in some cases they are the result of monetary transaction rather than actual informed opinions.

Unethical companies

Unfortunately, there is a wide range of unethical companies which define themselves “online reputation management firms” and actualy offer a fake review posting service to make businesses grow. GlowingReviews.co used to charge a monthly fee to post on a list of review sites. It was sued by Edmunds.com because of a large volume of fake reviews posted in the automotive sector.

We are not… robots

Someone might say that fake reviews are easy to spot. In some cases, they are. Extremely negative and overly positive are often not impartial. Researchers from the University of Cornell created a computer program which can call out false online reviews with an almost 90% accuracy. Its performance – scholars have seen – is definitely superior to the one found in real people trying to judge the veracity of a review.

Reviews and revenue

Another reason not to trust online reviews is that they often have a huge impact on the bottom line of the businesses involved. Michael Luca highlighted in his “Reviews, Reputation, and Revenue: The Case of Yelp.com” paper that a one-star increase in reviews has a huge impact on the revenue a business can generate. In such scenario, it is very likely that some of the key players will try to find a way to manipulate the information posted online and consequently reduce the actual value honest reviews have for users.

Solutions

Getting more reviews from real customers – This requires some intelligent internal PR. Inciting or begging in a pleading manner is tacky and unprofessional. So the launching of internal PR incentives needs to be put into place. These incentives should be made known to customers at the END or AFTER the sale or service when the idea is fresh to them.

Investigation fake reviews intended to harm – Fortunately, when competitors or avid attackers try to smother the reputation of another with fake/negative reviews, cyber forensics can pickup a lot of information. This can be costly and should be used when the monetary loss of business or sales is greater than cyber investigation services.

Reporting obvious automated good reviews to the host – In the case of many review websites, the companies with a better rating will move up in the directory. If you see obvious malpractice, report this to the host for review. Don’t start a firefight with the accused.

Dan Virgillito

About Dan Virgillito

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