Fake business reviews: the bad boob jobs of social media

mannequinWhat do strippers and online reviews have in common?

Answer: they both use “enhancements” to create a fake image and dupe people out of money.

Businesses are getting wise to power of online reviews in consumers’ purchasing decisions. In an effort to add to their bottom lines, some businesses have adopted the practice of posting fake reviews for themselves and their competitors.

Technology-research company Gartner reports that the number of fake reviews will rise to roughly 10 to 15 percent over the next two years.

Not only is the deceptive nature of this practice unethical, but it also undermines the influence that social media has as whole. Once consumers realize that the “word-of-mouth” referrals are more like paid advertisements, the medium loses its credibility and power.

There appear to be degrees of false online reviews. Instead of fabricating online reviews, some companies offer incentives for positive feedback. By bribing customers with discounts or other rewards, companies are able to inflate positive reviews and drown out negative reviews.

It’s also important to note that not all fake reviews are positive. Some companies create negative reviews for their competitors in hopes of stealing business away from them.

Hurtzler 571B banana slicerReviews for Hutzler 571B Banana Slicer








Some fake reviews are even humorous. For example, the reviews for the Hutzler 571B Banana Slicer on Amazon.com are meant to poke fun at an innocent kitchen gadget designed to create perfectly even banana slices. The reviews appear to be positive even though they are completely sarcastic. It doesn’t appear that the company is behind these (especially since they are thinly veiled jabs at the product and the company), but, just as in cosmetic procedures, even the best fakes can’t beat the real thing.

In the case of the Hutzler Banana Slicer, the humorous fake reviews probably do more good for the company than harm. But for companies who are victims of fake negative reviews, what action can be taken to clear their names?

According to Greg Beaubien’s article for PRSA, some companies are playing defense by seeking out fake negative reviews and taking legal steps to remove them.

Gartner reports that some companies will likely face litigation from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Furthermore, Beaubien’s article states that the FTC determined in 2009 that “paying for positive reviews without disclosure equates to deceptive advertising and would be prosecuted as such.”

In addition to fines and legal fees, companies that are busted posting fake reviews will also face hefty public condemnation that will likely result in reduced profitability.

Long story short: honesty is the best policy, especially when it comes to online reviews.


Blogs: cure for the common press release

blog wordcloud

Journalistics co-founder and editor Jeremy Porter recently posed the question, “Are blog posts better than press releases?” He argues that press releases take more time and effort to produce and distribute. He also challenges the return on investment from press releases and social media releases. Porter proposes that a company news blog is a more manageable, controlled and effective way to create buzz and communicate with a business’ audiences, including the media.

But this is not an entirely new concept. Professionals began predicting the extinction of press releases as early as 2005. Many have denounced press releases for the tremendous amount of time, effort and expense they demand and the questionable amount of benefit they actually deliver.

A company news blog, on the other hand, replaces the archive of press releases in a company’s online pressroom with timely, easily distributed posts with the same relevant information presented in a more engaging and concise way.

The other major benefit to this approach is how the distribution of a company’s news is seamlessly intertwined with social media. News can be shared through a Tweet, a Facebook post or instantly delivered to a subscriber’s email address the moment it’s published. Not only can the company share its latest headlines with its audiences, but audience members can quickly and easily share this information with others.

Porter suggests that one of the most important things for a company to do before making the switch is to alert all of its media contacts to the changes.

Since blog posts are easier to create and are updated more frequently than press releases, planning news content ahead of time is crucial. Instead of forcing news, Porter urges companies to get creative. News shared on a company’s blog can include hard-hitting news stories or a monthly post from the CEO; as long as the post contains information that is relevant and beneficial to the company’s key audiences.

Consolidating the archive of press releases with the new platform is also crucial. This will help make older information easier to find and boost the blog’s search engine rankings.

Many B2B communication professionals argue that press releases are as effective today as they have ever been. The idea of replacing news releases with a company blog has also drawn criticism from those who consider this to be a shortcut or “magic pill” for getting good publicity.

The digital age may not put the press release out to pasture any time soon, but as time and financial constraints get tighter and integration with social media becomes more necessary, an increasing number of professionals are using blogs as a viable predecessor to the old PR staple.

Which clients would you recommend use a news blog instead of press releases? Do you think this is a viable option for businesses and PR professionals? How else might this affect the communication field as we know it?

Fifty Shades of Grey Poupon

With all the scandalous behavior occurring on Facebook these days, it’s nice to see one company is working to preserve good taste.

Grey Poupon, the company behind those delightful commercials in the 80s finally launched its Facebook page on Sept. 12. While most brands are scrambling to engage with as many people as possible (and not even using a condiment!), Grey Poupon is taking an refreshingly elitist approach to social networking with The Society of Good Taste.

This app on the company’s Facebook page actually screens an “applicant’s” account for signs of good taste and a “discerning palate.” Any applicants who are turned down will have their “like” rescinded (and may consider deleting all those awful cell-phone-mirror pictures).

Once you begin the application process, the app collects information about your friends, where you live, activities and interests, education and what you share on Facebook. There’s even an adorable Flash presentation that shows the judging process and the applicant’s fate.

In the name of research (and a natural desire to know if I cut the mustard), I submitted my application to the Society of Good Taste. Thanks to my busy social life (i.e. blogging on a Friday night) and many well-to-do friends (most of whom should have been screened this rigorously), I scored in the 66th percentile. Yes, I’m basically a Facebook aristocrat now.

As an acknowledgment of my social status, Grey Poupon already hooked me up with a free reusable shopping bag. Sure, I had to give all my contact information and give the Society of Good Taste free reign of my account, but I feel like that’s a fair trade. I mean, it’s a really cute reusable shopping bag.

Some have criticized this campaign, but that’s probably because they didn’t make the cut. The company’s Facebook page is lousy with jaded commenters and pledges to switch to “that other Dijon mustard.” However, in just two days the page has received more than 30,000 likes and press coverage from nearly every major news outlet, including trade publications like AdAge and Marketing Week.

All joking (and puns) aside, this campaign has everyone talking. And, pardon me, but isn’t that really what counts?

But, of course.

Older vs. Younger

As a soon-to-be college graduate, I haven’t dwelled much upon what my entering the workforce means for those already established in the field. A PR and communication professional group on LinkedIn recently posted the question, “Would you hire someone over 45?”

AP Style violation aside (“older than” not “over”), this post brought up a lot of interesting points. With the economy still not fully recovered, some companies are cutting staff, salaries and benefits to replace older employees with college graduates. Their logic is that the younger generation is cheaper to hire but has the same or more relevant and valuable skills.

Naturally, those who have been in the field for a long time are very critical of this approach. One group member criticized that while the youngsters may have mastered communicating via computers, they lack the “experience, talent, fortitude, common sense and basic skills” that an employer expects.

I find this criticism especially harsh (obviously, this person hasn’t worked with any UNT alumnae), but I think the underlying argument has some merit. No amount of classroom training can replace years of real-world experience.

I also feel that this statement is incredibly hypocritical. This person criticizes companies for assuming that older PR professionals have become obsolete, yet she assumes that all budding professionals are incompetent and incapable.

In our defense, what my generation lacks in real-world experience, we make up for with a strong understanding of emerging technology and textbook PR. We also offer a fresh, new perspective on a company’s existing processes and challenges. And as for real-word experience, most graduates have completed internships.

It’s unfortunate that any company would compromise their public perception just to save money. I certainly agree that someone with limited professional experience is unlikely to completely replace a seasoned veteran. Ironically, I think a company that uses this approach as a cost-saving measure will ultimately see their bottom lines suffer.