Fake online reviews are a problem for marketers and brand managers.
Consumers traditionally looked at price and brand history for signals about product quality. They could assume that a more expensive appliance contained more craftsmanship—or a household brand name could be trusted to deliver a safe product.
However, new data suggest that online reviews can wipe out other consumer signals—and reviews can be faked.
Reviews don’t have to come from a platitude-spewing bot to be disingenuous. More commonly, reviews are tainted by dishonest marketing practices.
“I got a free dress out of the process, they got a review,” said Alex Tran. A yoga and fitness blogger, Tran found herself browsing private Facebook groups dedicated to hooking up sellers with review writers. She quickly received a private message from someone offering to reimburse her in full for purchasing a maxi dress and reviewing it on Amazon.
“They gave me a selection of six different dresses,” Tran said. “I thought, ‘That’s cool, you can get things you’re actually interested in.'” The individual didn’t pressure her into writing a 5-star review, though they did encourage Tran to post a photo of the dress with her review “so it looks more authentic.”
The practice might seem akin to common techniques in the influencer marketing arena, but for a marketplace like Amazon, the consumer review can wreak havoc on algorithms intended to highlight top-quality offerings.
It’s also detrimental to consumers, who might not be able to differentiate between products of good quality and cheap knockoff items whose purveyors have paid for favorable reviews.
This under-the-table relationship between sellers and review writers for hire exists because it works. “Historically, consumers have relied on price and brand to determine the quality of a product,” said Bart de Lange, associate professor of marketing at Escuela Superior de Administración y Dirección de Empresas (ESADE) in Barcelona, Spain, and author of a recent study on the validity of online ratings. “What we found is, as soon as you give consumers access to the average user rating, it blows away the other effects.”
Seeing that 5-star rating on a child’s car seat can override our better judgment, convincing us an $80 product is just as good as one costing $400.
So, how can marketers and PR pros overcome the rising tide of consumer reviews?
Here are four ideas:
1. Educate consumers through content marketing.
Customers are looking for information to help them make purchasing decisions. When they are looking for customer reviews, they are trying to research your product and learn whether it will solve their problems. However, consumers reviews are just one place they can find this information.
Savvy marketers should invest in a robust content marketing program to help customers find answers to their questions. By creating an alternative ecosystem where users can learn about your product and how it stacks up against the competition, you signal that your brand is committed to quality and has invested in solutions to meet consumer demand.
Take time to address your competitors and share what makes your product special. Bonus points if you use a format that is captivating and exciting for your audience.
An example is a campaign by Specialized Bicycles, a company that makes bicycle helmets. It has been fighting against cheap foreign knockoffs by showing the difference in product quality.
If you are doing something special as an organization, invest in telling your story; otherwise customers might not be able to differentiate on their own.
2. Highlight positive reviews on social media.
Social media is an important channel for sharing consumer stories. Instagram in particular is a popular place for organizations to share positive descriptions of their products or services.
Social media can also be a great place to source user-generated content. Customers love being recognized when they post about your organization. Try retweeting or resharing from your business handle, or contact them to create an interview or write a blog post about their experience.
3. Don’t delete your negative reviews.
When you talk only about the good times, you might be seen as inauthentic.
As tempting as it is, you don’t want to respond only to rave reviews. If you do, you won’t look believable. Choose a few that are in the two- and three-star range. Show your visitors how you fixed the problem mentioned in the review. And at the same time be sure to thank the reviewer for his honest comments.
The more authentic you are, the more engagement you will get. Visitors are positively impressed by honesty. It builds credibility, loyalty and sales.
4. Use reviews to tell your brand story.
Reviews can be a great place to find stories that help position your brand as an industry leader.
If consumers are going to put an outsize importance on your reviews, make sure you are using reviews to back up your other marketing efforts. Link within your content to reviews on outside platforms, and ask consumers to provide feedback after they purchase.
How are you using customer reviews to position your organization, PR Daily readers?