This post is the result of a comment I was going to leave on MSNBC’s website.
The link to the article is below
It really makes you wonder who to trust when you book a table at a restaurant or schedule a weekend away with your bride.
I believe review fraud goes deeper and is more rife with bad characters than the author of this article could possibly realize.
It’s the Wild West for reviews out there; in both the buying and the selling. The collateral damage is small businesses and the paying public. Everybody gets ripped off.
It’s so bad that a cottage industry has sprung up to help smaller sized businesses deal with the fallout of bad reviews.
Full disclosure that Lars Media Group offer a service of this type
I can’t drive anywhere without hearing a commercial for one of these firms. I know it costs money to advertise on radio so obviously this is a burgeoning industry with economic potential.
For only a few dollars a month you can see if someone is chatting up bad stuff about your company on Facebook or uploading bad experiences to You Tube. Gets me to thinking that these big companies are just on Social Media to cover their butts and be the first to know if someone is grousing about their bad batch of soda. Makes sense to me.
Remember the musician who recorded a song about an airline breaking his guitar? After a million or so hits, the airline finally got the message and did the right thing. I wonder if they had a reputation manager or found out like everyone else in an email.
This very industry used to be relegated to high powered PR firms and clients with deep pockets like Politicians, Airlines, Celebrities etc; Not anymore. With the arrival of the internet (props again to A.G. Jr.) comes the challenge of protecting your reputation. Maybe you shouldn’t have sent that picture to your best friend that may now cost you your job.
I’ve been guilty of this on more than one occasion because my fat fingers seem to have a mind of their own when it comes to my laptop keyboard. My wife is always telling me to write the email first and then put in the recipients address. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been guilty of “premature emailing” followed by a flushing of the cheeks and a “oh S–t”. There is no pill for this so if you get nothing else out of this comment – write your email first then put in the recipient, write your email first then put in the recipient, write your email first then put in the recipient……
One of the good things about a reputation manager is that they can help you answer a bad review with a cool head, figure out ways to make it right for the reviewer who had a bad experience and take emotion out of the equation. One of the first bits of advice we give our clients (we are marketing consultants and this is something we’ve added to our services in the past year because of the fake reviews effecting our clients bottom line) is to take a deep breath and a little time before responding to a bad review. This response is going to be a permanent digital record detailing how they handle a customer complaint. If they appear unprofessional or get drawn into a name calling battle the business always loses. Consumers always look to see how the business responds because it shows them how they might be treated if they’ve got a gripe.
Google’s free business listing service called Places has been getting hammered by these tactics. I don’t want to call Google out on this issue because I believe the buying and selling of fake reviews is systemic and widespread on the internet and among most directory sites.
Most businesses have claimed their free Google Place’s listing. It is a free service that allows a business to verify their account, choose a business category, upload relevant photos, videos and set up coupons. This even gives businesses without a website an online presence. So I’ll stay with Google for this example because it’s free, and what you first see when you do a search on Google.
These Google Place’s listings have taken over the front page of the search results for “local search” (Butcher Boise, personal injury lawyer Stamford) and have pushed “organic search results” (the free results that the search engines pick up from content on your website, press releases, you tube videos, articles, etc.) to the bottom of the first page or to page 2 and beyond. So these little place markers have become a competitive battleground for legitimate local businesses. If they lose ground to these lead farms and get pushed off the front page then business drops off significantly.
- Some Place’s accounts have been hammered by bad reviews from competitors. This is the ultimate case of slander with very little recourse. How are you going to track down the perpetrator if you’re the slandered business? Do you have the time and resources to stay on this while also trying to run a business? Probably not.
- Other business hire unscrupulous firms to give them good reviews and their competition bad reviews. I believe we’ve been taken in by the reviews because we have yet to be learn how to tell the bonafide from the fake and have come to trust reviews because of a conditioning that started long ago with main stream media and offline magazines like Consumer Reports etc. (referenced above) to decide where we spend our money.
- Recently anyone could go to your places account and indicate you were out of business and bingo your listing reflected such.
- Google has allowed (perhaps a bit harsh, I’m not one of the Google haters) lead farms to set up multiple places accounts in downtown areas where there is no possibility of an office or brick and mortar area. I recently saw a locksmith lead farm Places listing that had the address of the Staples Center in downtown LA and it was filled with…..wait for it…….fake reviews. How did I know? I looked at the reviewers name and the bad grammar and tracked her review to other bogus locksmith pages in different parts of the country. The importance of commanding multiple locations across the country is because selling leads to businesses in this tough economy is big business. If they can get enough front page exposure on Google they get more phone calls which translates to more leads and more revenue for the lead company and yes I guess for the business that’s buying the leads.
There is a huge financial reward for commanding the first spot in the listings for the geo- specific search term “locksmith Los Angeles”. Someone who is locked out of the house or their car types this or something close to it to find someone to help.
Either way there is just no way to tell if it is real or fake. Google may be taking steps to clean this up with some sort of validation system but so far they have been slow to react.
Maybe I’ll put together a 5 page guide to spotting fake reviews.