Dig Your Own Grave with Paid Reviews

October 9, 2012
Paid online reviews rising

It’s an unfortunate truth that although many companies are starting to see the importance of social media, they’re not quite ready to take on the work it requires to do it correctly. Cutting corners is easy if you’ve got the funds, but using the web dishonestly is a recipe for disaster.

Fake = bad

There’s already ample evidence of companies’ less-than-savory online behavior, often centered around snubbing customers, trying to downplay a catastrophe, or buying Facebook fans, Twitter followers, links, etc.

The idea of purchasing fans seems pointless to me—how engaged and likely to purchase is a fake account anyway?—but now there’s some bigger, more disappointing news on the horizon.

Paid reviews on the rise

As consumers come to rely more on online reviews and sentiment, the pressure to be viewed in a positive light is likely to overcome many companies’ sense of work ethic or morality; a Gartner study from earlier this year predicts that by 2014, 10-15% of online reviews will be fake, paid for by the very companies the reviews praise.

As as marketer I understand the impetus behind a business’ purchasing reviews — my prospects want to see positive reviews and I need to stay in business, so I’ll do what I have to.

As a potential target of fake reviews, however, this statistic is disappointing and a little scary. I’m one of the many consumers who depend on reviews and testimonials to guide my purchasing decisions — if I can’t depend on a company to be honest, why would I spend my money with them?

Don’t destroy trust

When you purchase a review (whether on Yelp, Facebook, or on your own website) you are digging your own grave.

It’s no secret that buyers make emotional decisions. Trust is an incredibly powerful emotion, and it can take months or years to build it with your customer base. When you’re found out—and you will be—you’ll be back at square one, trying to rebuild the trust you had before. And there’s no guarantee it will ever come back.

What can I do instead?

Encourage customers

If a customer says something nice about your company, employees, or products or services, thank them profusely and then ask if they would mind saying that same thing on your LinkedIn company page, or your Yelp profile, or on Facebook.

If they’re true advocates of what you do, they’ll be happy to sing your praises — and those are the people you want to talk about you.

(Side note: Giving out coupons or discounts on services in exchange for positive reviews is still buying them. Don’t do it.)

Be prepared

Chances are that some of your customers will have a bad experience with you at some point — that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. And because social media is the quickest way to be heard, you’re probably going to get an earful.

Negative comments can sometimes trigger a social media fire alarm. But if you keep cool and do your best to resolve the situation, you just might turn it into a positive experience for the customer as well as those who are watching the interaction.

Word of mouth rules

As buyers grow as skeptical of online reviews as they are of traditional advertising, they will turn to the only entities they know they can trust: friends and family.

  • “Marcie, I need my septic tank pumped. Who was it that helped you last month?”
  • “I really need some new dress shirts. Hey Will, didn’t you have a really helpful sales guy at Nordstrom? What’s his name again?”

Keep your buying cycle smooth and easy, and your Customer Service and follow-up impeccable, and you’ll never need to buy positive reviews.

Final words

Your online brand—what people think, see, and say about you—matters, but don’t risk your reputation buying praise. Earning it organically requires more work, but nothing worth having comes easy. Be human, be trustworthy, be present.

Update: Review site Yelp has added consumer alert warnings to businesses caught buying reviews.

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