Fake reviews for products and services continues to be a problem. Are companies that create fakes undermining the overall usefulness of online reviews?
CNN reports that skincare brand Sunday Riley had employees write fake reviews for almost two years. This wasn’t just a few reviews to boost products. It was a concerted, calculated effort that involved the company’s CEO.
They coached employees so their reviews seemed genuine and relatable. They received instructions on how to use a private connection (VPN) so the reviews wouldn’t appear to come from the company IP address. They were told to vote “thumbs down” on negative reviews, which helps them get removed (this all happened on the online beauty site Sephora).
They admitted to these practices, adding they did it to push back against competitors who “often post negative reviews”.
In China, eCommerce giant Alibaba cracked down on fake reviews after the practice began to normalize. It got to the point that new businesses felt they couldn’t compete without fake reviews. The organizations creating fake reviews (called brushers) maintained the position that they were helping businesses by giving them a leg up in a saturated market.
Stars in Bad Faith
Read through the above articles, then shop on a major eCommerce site and check product reviews.
How much do you trust the reviews? Does the knowledge that some of them may be fake shake your confidence?
Say you’re an online retailer yourself. Do you need fake reviews? Do you think they’ll help – or in fact hurt – your business?
What are you accomplishing if you write fake negatives about your competition? What’s the impact if they counter with fake positives?
What good is a 5-star or 1-star review, written in bad faith?
No One Wins When Everyone Cheats
When professional cyclist Lance Armstrong finally admitted to “doping” throughout his career, one point he made was that it wasn’t just him who cheated. During that era, the entire professional field used performance-enhancing drugs.
His teammate and fellow disgraced rider Tyler Hamilton also described how he felt he couldn’t stay with the field (or on his team) if he didn’t dope.
The results are infamous. These guys lost their titles and the events, for all intents and purposes, ended up with no legitimate winner.
Professional cycling and other sports stringently test against doping because they realize having a competition where the winner is the person who’s best at cheating is pointless.
This is the lesson we’re still in the midst of learning with online reviews.
If consumers begin to think too many reviews are created in bad faith, they’ll stop including them as criteria in their buying decision.
This is a call-out to businesses that think fake reviews will help their business, either good ones for themselves or bad ones for their competition. You’re sabotaging the system, playing a game where there can be no winner.
Consumers love online reviews. Let’s keep them authentic and useful. If you need more reviews, use a reputation management service to help you – without faking them.
In a few years, reviews will be established as excellent, useful content for marketing or they’ll become the Lance Armstrong of marketing tactics.
It’s up to us.