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Fake Online Reviews Hurt Everyone

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The amount of news coverage on the subject of fake online reviews is plentiful yet no one with the power to do anything seems to be taking action.

A BBC article on the subject stated, “The researchers from Canada and China say paying people to post comments is an “interesting strategy in business marketing” but it is not a benign activity….In some cases, rival companies have used competing armies of workers to wage comment wars that confused members of the public looking for unbiased information.”

confusing online reviews

confusing online reviews collage by KitchenBoy

 

The researchers say the fake online reviews can overwhelm users, causing them to find it hard to trust any information found. One PR company claimed it had employed 800 individuals to run 20,000 separate accounts to help maintain interest in a video game while it was down for maintenance.

A Time Business article, which referenced a NY Times article about online reviews, mentioned the experiences of Todd Rutherford, who spent years writing and commissioning others to write thousands of what he calls “artificially embellished reviews” of books. Often, the book “reviews” required little more than a 10- or 15-minute “review” of a book to produce 300 words of glowing, somewhat relevant and customized praise. Before Google suspended his ad account due to his pay-for-positive-reviews business, Rutherford was pulling in as much as $28,000 per month. One author admitted to paying $20,000 over the years to various services to review his books.

Time Business details another example of fake online reviews mentioned in a recent post at Automotive News, which relates that Google is suddenly and without warning deleting dozens, sometimes hundreds of online reviews of car dealerships at Google+ Local. Google isn’t explaining why, exactly, reviews are disappearing. But it did release a boilerplate statement noting that “these measures help everyone by ensuring that the reviews appearing on Google+ Local are authentic, relevant, and useful,” giving the indication that there was reason to believe the online reviews were fake or somehow inauthentic.

The writer concludes rather astutely, “The researchers found that there was ‘relatively more positive manipulation than negative manipulation, even though the order of magnitude of the two is similar.’ The big takeaway is that the system is being manipulated with fake positive and fake negative reviews—and that’s all negative for consumers who are using them to try and make smart choices.”

In my own research on the subject of online reviews on Amazon.com, I found that many reviewers who are allegedly normal users with unbiased opinions seemed dubious. For example, in examining the “top” reviewers and the details provided in their profile, many of these people are writing more reviews than there are days of the week. Couple this massive volume of reviews with the estimated cost to purchase these products, then finding a place to store them and you can begin to understand how skepticism arises about the legitimacy of these so called natural online reviews.

One “woman” who claimed to be writing for 3 years had allegedly purchased and reviewed over 1500 products. All while “having a [day job] and being a serious amateur photographer”, this according to her profile details.

Some may be contract employees of larger firms, some may run their own websites where they provide even more so called “legitimate reviews”, but again the sheer volume of reviews posted causes me to doubt their authenticity.

Average people tend to write impassioned reviews soon after purchase and studies indicate most are done when the person is aggravated or the opinion negative. The fact remains that satisfied customers rarely comment online or via telephone to the manufacturer of a product or service provider.

It used to be said, “a happy customer will tell two people while an unhappy one will tell ten people.” The only thing that has changed about this axiom in the last 30+ years is that an angry customer has the ability to influence thousands instead of just a few. Our digital world power is documented in a book on the subject called, “Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000: Running a Business in Today’s Consumer-Driven World”.

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Customer Foolishness Factor

All of this chicanery is coupled with what I call the “stupid factor” of angry customers. Hotel or inn keepers are given poor ratings in online reviews when a guest stays with them during poor weather that might cause local roads to be excessively muddy (actual Trip Advisor complaint). A kitchen product on Amazon was rated 1-Star because the customer was mad at Amazon for its poor handling of the Premier Customer benefits. I won’t even begin to talk about Yelp or Zagat, neither of which I find trustworthy.

Regardless of whether some might see through this foolishness, the overall ratings are still lowered for a product or service and that is what well intended potential customers look at when making purchasing decisions.

Bloggers Versus Online Reviews

Some would argue that bloggers, like myself, are no more reliable than fake online reviews because too many of my brethren allow themselves to be shills for a company for money, travel or other compensation. While I may accept free products for review, I am always honest in my opinions. When I like a product, I can tend to gush, but I have on more than one occasion disappointed a company by being a bit too truthful. It is the risk they run providing the press with complimentary products.

This isn’t to say that we all don’t, at times, write articles devoid criticism, such as when highlighting a newly introduced product or providing a summary of a company’s offerings. However somewhere along the line, honest product reviews need to contain positives and negatives.

Affects of Fake Online Reviews on KitchenBoy

How does this issue of fake online reviews affect KitchenBoy? One of my main sources of revenue is affiliate partner product links. When you, my faithful readers, click to Amazon or similar partners and buy something, I am paid a commission on the sale. The struggle for me is when I know a product to be good and send you to a retailer to buy it, however a questionable negative rating may dissuade you from your purchase.

Let’s face it, we all look at the star or numerical rating as our first indicator for whether we should purchase something. How many of us read the details of the online reviews to determine if the commenter is being foolish or seems fake?

The conclusion? Regardless of whether the online review is for a hotel, restaurant or blender, take the opinions with a grain of salt. We all need to find friends, writers and websites whose opinion we trust rather than believing in the unknown of online reviews. It may take us more time to find sources we trust, but doing so will make our consumer life better.

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4 Responses to “Fake Online Reviews Hurt Everyone”

  1. KitchenBoy

    @Melissa – thanks for the detailed comment. I am glad to know more details on this subject.

    Thanks for reading

    KitchenBoy

  2. Melissa Roman

    Word of the day: astroturfing. Even if you’ve never heard of it, chances are, you’ve encountered it. Here’s the scoop: Increasingly, retailers and manufacturers ask their customers to write positive reviews of their products or services on various websites—sometimes offering a discount for doing so. Advertising and public-relations agencies have also gotten in on the act, masquerading online as delighted consumers. And like the faux grass, these reviews appear to be genuine but aren’t. Here are some tips to help you discern the difference between a fake endorsement and the real deal.Examine the review’s language. “A real review is typically more moderate in its praise,” says John Falcone, an executive editor of Cnet.com , a technology-review site. Also, watch for a description of the user’s experience: “Authentic reviews provide specific information about how the item performed,” says Michelle Madhok, the founder of SheFinds.com , a shopping-advice website. Be wary of reviews with formal product names, model numbers, or tech or marketing jargon.Investigate the reviewer. Some sites, like Amazon.com , cross-reference user reviews with their buyer database and label those people as “verified purchasers” of the merchandise that they’re reviewing. These are the most reliable reviewers. However, you should be skeptical of assessments from onetime critics.Check the timing and the number of reviews. It can be a red flag if there are multiple accolades for a product or a service—especially a new one—in a brief span of time (say, 30 minutes), says Falcone. They may have been written by bogus critics looking to create some promotional buzz.

  3. KitchenBoy

    Well Antonio, that is one of the main points of the article, you can’t always know if the user comments are from real users or just employees of a contract firm or some kind of professional. I agree that seeing what others have encountered is important, its just that you can’t trust what you see.

    Thanks for reading

    Kitchenboy

  4. Antonio F. Collins

    You hear the advice all the time: Before you buy something, especially a big-ticket item, go online and check the user reviews. It makes sense to learn what people who bought a product think about it.

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