Fake reviews can affect everyone. Whether you’re an online entrepreneur looking to launch an ecommerce business, or a consumer searching for a nice restaurant, deceptive and deceitful appraisals muddy the waters. And although fraudulent comments have been around since time immemorial, the internet amplifies them in real time to a global audience.
Spotting false reviews as a consumer
As consumers, we’re increasingly reliant on peer opinions when choosing products or selecting service providers. But while we might imagine ourselves to be budding Sherlocks able to effortlessly separate fact and fiction, studies suggest that consumers correctly identify fake reviews less than half of the time. In one notable test last year, a team of graduates would have scored a higher hit rate if they’d flipped coins to decide whether comments were authentic or not.
Below are some of the things to look out for when trying to identify fraudulent online reviews:
#1. Lots of posts from people with no account history. This is a classic giveaway on aggregator and review portals. Why would someone create a profile purely to write a single post about one business or experience? Brand new profiles are equally suspect.
#2. A lack of specifics. Bogus commentators have rarely experienced the product, place or people they claim to. As a result, they won’t be able to describe things in detail. A made-up restaurant review won’t mention portion sizes, waiting times or food flavors.
#3. Poor spelling and grammar. This might seem unfair on those for whom English is not their native language. However, many false posts are penned by overseas copy farms, while others are hastily written to meet a goal. Approach poorly-written reviews skeptically.
#4. The over-use of verbs. Minimum word counts mean one-sentence critiques are often frowned upon. Fake posts might be filled with irrelevant verbs, rather than descriptive nouns which reflect the consumer’s experience (probably because it never happened).
#5. First-person perspective. Another way of bulking up a word count is to add meaningless preamble. “I decided to come here to celebrate a special occasion since we were in the neighborhood” adds nothing, other than extra words.
#6. Similarities between comments. One restaurant in Scotland briefly managed to rig TripAdvisor to become the second-best eatery in Glasgow, even though almost every (five-star) review was written in the same staccato English with near-identical terms.
Spotting fake online reviews as a business
So much for the consumer perspective – now what about business owners? How can you identify whether the latest Google review or Yelp critique is sincere or bogus?
#1. Descriptions of a mysterious transaction. This may be difficult to spot if every customer receives identical treatment. However, you should know whether or not a first-time client ordered ten items last week, and immediately returned seven of them.
#2. An unrecognizable description of something which actually happened. Sure, Mrs. Smith placed an online order last week. But did the overnight dispatch of 25 paper napkins really “ruin their birthday”, and become “the worst customer service ever”?
#3. An absence of names and contact details. Maybe the customer is embarrassed to reveal their real name. Any review posted anonymously should be treated with great suspicion. The internet isn’t renowned for secretive people behaving honorably.
#4. A sudden influx of one-star reviews. Have those solid fours suddenly collapsed? If so, you could be under assault from a rival business, roping in friends and family as amateur trolls. This drags down average scores and looks bad until addressed.
Reacting to fraudulent online reviews
Although the internet never forgets, false comments shouldn’t clog up a profile for all time. If you’ve identified suspicious activity on a third-party site like TripAdvisor, look for a complaints portal or customer service address. Support is often patchy (Facebook is notorious for ignoring assistance requests), but it’s a good starting point. There may be Report Review or Policy Violation flags. Google carries automated forms for reporting suspicious behavior, and it’s also possible to reach out via the Google My Business dashboard.
If you’re able to respond to other people’s statements, issue a polite but strenuous denial. Use phrases like “we can’t find a record of this transaction”, to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of people reading. The troll (and their account) may be long gone, but your reputation remains at stake. Remember the host website doesn’t want its pages cluttered with bogus material, so it’s in their interests to respond timeously. They might investigate the account and discover that the user has trolled other companies in different industries. The result? A ban, and the deletion of everything they’d posted.
Turn negatives into positives by discussing recent problems with negative reviews on social media platforms. It reiterates the point that third-party opinions shouldn’t automatically be trusted. It also demonstrates that you’re a real person protecting a genuine reputation – and few things encourage prospective clients to hand over their hard-earned dollars more than knowing how much a firm cares. Finally, why not promise “dissatisfied customers” a 100% refund? They clearly can’t accept the offer, but it’ll look extremely generous to everyone else…
Preventing false evaluations
Perhaps the ultimate protection against bogus comments is to stop them in the first place. Restrict invitations to review your business to established clients, capable of supplying proof of purchase. Clearly stipulate that every comment will be replied to, and ask dubious reviewers to prove their authenticity. Robust responses show prospective customers you’re disputing a particular portrayal of events, and it’ll hopefully deter future smears or attacks. Plus, it’s good housekeeping to respond to every online comment – positive or negative.
If there’s an FAQs page, add a question like “Are our customer reviews genuine?”, followed by a brief answer explaining how they’re all scrutinized for authenticity. Finally, eliminate contact forms, which attract copious amounts of spam and also provide a potential gateway for hackers to penetrate your site. A clickable email link ought to suffice for anyone wishing to make an inquiry.
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