What 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.
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.