After working with a large amount of companies doing social media, I began noticing a worrying trend in the reviews section. I often noticed staff or family of staff giving five star reviews and recommendations for the companies on Google, Facebook and in other places. As a marketer, this is a big no no, so I nipped it in the bud and got staff and their families to remove reviews. But then it suddenly struck me…
Over 70% of the companies I had worked for had falsely elevated their rankings through fake positive reviews!
This is really, really worrying in regards to customers, who rely on reviews and recommendations being correct when using a service or buying products. Fake reviews are a huge problem, especially for small businesses.
I understand that when you are starting out, reviews can make or break a company. It’s nice to have trust built up, testimonials and support, but these things will come in time. No matter what business you are in, you will inevitably get customers, and you will inevitably get reviews. The key is patience, there’s no need to rock the boat… Fake positive reviews are bad, but there is another sinister bugbear waiting in the shadows!
People also leave fake Negative reviews!
I mainly work in the restaurant scene, and the restaurant scene is brutal. The amount of fake one star reviews left attacking restaurants from rivals and their friends and families is absolutely staggering. In several cases, it has begun to look like all out warfare!
Restaurants will occasionally attack their enemies with a vicious campaign of hatred, talking about how the enemy’s restaurants are full of mice, their food is out of date, undercooked or overcooked and gives the whole town dysentery. Kinda weird for a restaurant rated with 4 or 5 on their hygiene scores (I don’t work with less.) It is always weird when you have to issue a tonne of reports as a social media manager due to reviews being false.
Avoiding Fake Reviews
There is no sure fire way to avoid fake reviews, but there are a few ways to spot them. On Facebook, check out someone’s profile, and see if they work for the company. This can seem really dumb but most of the Facebook savvy people I’ve worked with who have given themselves great reviews have their workplace on their profiles. Weirdly I have noticed this most with estate agents!?! Make of that what you will…
For star ratings, I’m pretty strict about avoiding 5 star ratings and 1 star ratings. These are the main targets used to boost a business page’s ratings in one direction or the other. The pros are that these are 90% of the fake reviews you will find, but the cons are you miss out on people who are making a genuine complaint about products or services, or who are genuinely loving the services they receive.
For recommendations, I avoid 100% positive and negative reviews. I like a good recommendation that feels balanced, well thought out and isn’t 100% perfect. At the same time, I find it hard to trust someone who has had the nightmare experience of a lifetime if most people are happy with a service or love it completely. All reviews need a form of balance.
Here’s our list of how to spot Fake Reviews:
1: Is the review overly positive or negative? If so there could be a problem.
2: Is the review suspicious? Does it talk about how great and appealing a product or service is in the cajoling manner a marketer might use? If so… Red flag!
3: Is the Review or Product about an actual service? Reviews that go into a little detail about experience are good. If there is no mention of anything and there’s just a rating… Best to ignore it.
4: Read less positive reviews: Though some people generally love a product or service, and those reviews might be 100% real, you tend to get better and more reliable information from people who aren’t happy enough to give top marks.
5: Avoid Admitted Bias: Anyone who hasn’t actually used a company or product or service, or admits they just love the brand for whatever reason… Why are they reviewing this again?
6: Investigate the reviewers. Do they review a lot of places, do they only have one negative review? In some cases you can see all the reviews left by someone, it’s always suspicious when someone makes an account just to leave one review, positive or negative.
With all this in mind, it is still hard to spot fake reviews, but it should help!
Managing Reviews as a Business
Never ever get your staff or their friends and family to leave reviews, this can cause incredible problems if anyone recognises the person leaving the review and points it out. If rivals or enemies leave reviews, report them to Google or Facebook, or whenever the review is. Mark it down as being a false review left by someone who hasn’t experienced your service. It’s a conflict of interest and must be marked as such.
Respond to all reviews in a polite and cordial manner and handle things privately in messages or email. Anyone who doesn’t respond to negative reviews, look them up and see if they are trying to damage your reputation.
Fake Reviews are Fraud in the UK and US
In the UK, The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. This prohibits unfair commercial practices. When it comes to businesses faking their online reviews, or negatively impacting on their rivals, this is regarded as unfair commercial practice due to it having an effect on the choices of a potential consumer. Whilst few businesses are actively penalised, I would always recommend against it, as avoiding a lawsuit is always preferable to getting into hot water.
In the US, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) may stop and penalise parties that are “using unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.” Under 15 U.S. Code § 45. The Federal Trade Commission forbids the use of fake testimonials for much the same reasons, and it is a criminal offence to use them.
Writing fake reviews also goes against the terms of service of many companies that allow the review feature. It is against Google’s terms of service, and Facebook and eBay have taken steps to combat fake reviews.
Never, under any circumstances buy fake reviews for your business, or persuade anyone to leave them.
I hope this has helped you to spot fake reviews and if you run a business, to avoid using them at all costs…
I am the CEO of Fantasoft an up and coming digital marketing firm based in the UK. I work as a blogger, SEO specialist and Web Designer, and my hobbies include making small films and writing music.