Coping with fake reviews

Coping with fake reviews

Fake reviews – whether bashing your business or puffing up a competitor – are a serious matter for any business. Here’s how you can tackle the problem. 

Reviews matter. According to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), £23 billion of UK consumer spending each year is influenced by online reviews. “Consumers trust customer reviews 12 times more than they do the manufacturers’ own descriptions,” says Naveen Aricatt, legal expert at Trusted Shops.

She adds: “It may not come as a complete shock that marketing content designed to sell us products is sometimes viewed with scepticism. Nonetheless, for consumers to trust anonymous strangers more – by a factor of 12 – demonstrates just how powerful customer reviews can be. Furthermore, customers that read reviews are more than twice as likely to make a purchase, and on average spend 11% more than those that don’t.”

These statistics explain why marketers become so vexed by the issue of fake negative reviews. As consumers, people are bad at spotting them; research by Cornell University in the US found that people’s innate ‘truth bias’ – where they assume what they’re reading is true until presented with evidence to the contrary – means subjects were essentially unable to identify fake reviews and, as a result, they can be highly damaging to a business.

Spotting the fakes

Prelini Udayan-Chiechi, VP marketing EMEA at ratings and reviews service Bazaarvoice, points to a variety of deceptive practices that lead to these fake reviews. “They include spam and bots, individuals using evasion techniques to conceal fraud efforts, attempts by individuals to solicit payment in exchange for writing fake reviews, attempts by a business or its agents to procure fake reviews, and attempts by employees or agents of a business to submit content that promotes or demotes a particular product or brand,” she reports.

Yet she goes on to outline some of the tactics we, as marketers, can use to spot them. “Fake reviews tend to have a few tell-tale signs,” she says. “Genuine reviews will have a story-telling element to them which consumers can relate to. Consumers tend to use key words largely used by other consumers; generally, consumers don’t necessarily go into product-specific terminology either.

“Businesses should also pay attention to the submission source of all reviews and expose hidden relationships, while still protecting users’ privacy. They should implement system-wide analysis capabilities and advanced algorithms to help identify patterns suggestive of fraudulent activity. Finally, as consumer-created content contains ever more video and photos, human moderation becomes a key element in assessing the authenticity of this content.”

Taking action

What should you do when you find a fake review? Simon Wadsworth, CEO at Igniyte says: “Once you’ve spotted the fake articles, there are steps you can take. For example, you can request that any false or defamatory comment is removed from social media by approaching the social network directly. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube all have dedicated teams for managing defamatory content removal.

“For reviews found on websites and forums, a personal approach can also make all the difference. If you are sure a review is false and it is causing your business ongoing problems, we strongly recommend contacting the website directly. A short letter or email detailing the review in question and how it is affecting business can also be effective in helping to get these reviews taken down swiftly, and can be the best way to handle individual comments away from the legal route.”  

Edwin Bos, VP of innovation at Reevoo, offers one final piece of advice. “Report them to the CMA,” he says. “Last month, they cracked down on a company that had been paid to post more than 800 fake reviews on behalf of 86 different businesses, but there’s still a long way to go to eradicate the problem.”

Jon Riley, project director at the CMA, says, “Online reviews have become part of everyday life – more than half of people in the UK use them when deciding what to buy. Fake reviews are not only harmful to consumers who are misled by them, but also to fair-playing businesses who may lose out as a result. We are committed to ensuring that consumers’ trust in online reviews is maintained, and will take enforcement action where necessary to tackle unlawful practices.”

Alex Blyth Freelance Journalist CPL
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