We live in an age of information, and consumers today expect to have the opportunity to find out about your business reputation well before they make first contact. Most consumers, 87% of them, are influenced by positive reviews, and customers who read reviews are 105% likelier to make a purchase. That means reviews are a high stakes game: they can make or break your business. Get good ones, and customers are confident in your reputation. Too many bad reviews, and they’ll move on to the next business that doesn’t pose such a risk. With so much at stake, it’s easy to understand why some businesses make the mistake of creating fake reviews. Freelance writers and task-catchers make a brisk business of creating glowing reviews for restaurants, books, and other businesses or products they’ve never personally interacted with.
Positive (but entirely fake) reviews may offer a temporary lift in sales, but it’s a poor long term reputation strategy. Review sites are getting wise to paid reviews and are constantly developing new ways to identify the fakes. Yelp is particularly tough on consumer deception, running sting operations to catch businesses buying reviews, and employing an advanced automated review filter to place suspect entries at the bottom of business listings. Ivy League researchers continue to create new ways to weed out bogus reviews, so it’s less of a question of if fake entries will be discovered, but when.
Pay for fake reviews, and you’re probably not going to get away with it, that much is clear. But what exactly happens when you’re caught red handed? The results can be disastrous. On Yelp, businesses that buy reviews have a consumer alert placed on their account, but that’s a slap on the wrist compared to what else can happen: sites can shut down your account, pull legitimate reviews along with the fake ones, and even take you to court. One firm paid the FTC a $250,000 settlement for charges of using misleading consumer reviews.
While bogus reviews are created with the intention of improving a business or product’s reputation, there’s great risk that they’ll have the exact opposite effect, breeding distrust among potential customers and even creating the potential for legal trouble. Even honest, but tough, reviews are better than being outed as a fraud: with a Yelp consumer alert or a whopping FTC fine, no one can trust you with their business.
The alternative, of course, is encouraging real customers to share their experience. Attracting legitimate positive reviews starts with a great product or service, giving your customers something special that they want to share with friends, family, and complete strangers. Making the jump to an online review is often as easy as just asking for it: put a link to review pages on your website, follow up with post-visit emails, and create printed materials that direct customers to your review site of choice. And remember, consumers want to know you’re listening, so be sure to follow up on all feedback, whether it’s positive or not.
Fake reviews are a quick and risky fix, one that we don’t recommend pursuing. Reputation management is not as simple as throwing out a fiver for a glowing review of your customer service, but it’s not such a daunting task, either. Avoid fraud, and play it straight for a positive long term reputation strategy.