In a recent study by Gartner, more than one in ten reviews will be false.
Given the growing importance of reviews as a way for consumers to pick a product or service, this is a worrisome trend. The main question is: who can you trust online? Apparently, only 85 to 90 percent of the reviews out there.
False Reviews Prevalent
Jenny Sussin, senior research analyst at Gartner says:
“With over half of the Internet’s population on social networks, organizations are scrambling for new ways to build bigger follower bases, generate more hits on videos, garner more positive reviews than their competitors and solicit ‘likes’ on their Facebook pages…Many marketers have turned to paying for positive reviews with cash, coupons and promotions including additional hits on YouTube videos in order to pique site visitors’ interests in the hope of increasing sales, customer loyalty and customer advocacy through social media ‘word of mouth’ campaigns.”
Given the growing importance of reviews, it might seem like a good strategy to create a few false ones. However, think again.
Two Problems with False Reviews
Manufacturing reviews is harmful for an organization in two ways.
First, the point of reviews is to drive users to your site and to help them make a more informed decision about purchasing a product or service. But it a company creates false reviews, they are loosing an opportunity to connect with real customers and to engage with them.
Second, its risky—both legally speaking and it could damage a company’s reputation is the false reviews are revealed. Fines could be imposed as a result too. The FTC recently (2009) determined that paying for positive reviews are essentially false advertising—unless the company discloses that the reviewer had been paid.
Reputation Defending New Approach
The Gartner report also mentions an interesting approach:
“As the FTC begins to crack down on this practice of fake reviews/ratings, some reputation management companies are taking a different approach, not posting new, fake, favorable reviews, but identifying fake and defaming reviews and requesting the reviewers or host site remove them or face legal repercussions. Gartner analysts said they expect a similar market of companies to emerge specializing in reputation defense versus reputation creation.”
This approach seems to make sense: don’t pay to create false reviews: instead, combat the any existing ones out there.
Silver Lining: Future Regulation
There could be a silver lining as the result of the false reviews:
“Gartner believes that although consumer trust in social media is currently low, consumer perception of tightened government regulation and increased media exposure of fake social media ratings and reviews will ultimately increase consumer trust in new and existing social media ratings and reviews.”