Identifying – let alone actually combating – fake online reviews has been a constant source of angst for many business owners and marketers with an online presence. Now, I hate to break it to you guys, but it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. That is, at least, according to some new research unveiled by Gartner.
In the last few weeks, the publishing industry was rocked with news about authors creating fake accounts on Amazon and other sites to pad their product pages with phony positive reviews. The shock and awe, while upsetting to many in the field, was met with a blasé rolling of the eyes by restaurateurs, however, who have long had to deal with embellished (if not completely fake) online reviews, both good and bad, on sites like Yelp. Just ask the owner of a pizza restaurant who was photographed bear hugging President Obama, only to have his Yelp profile take the brunt of users upset by his encounter, who took to the page to post fake negative reviews to ruin his reputation on the site.
Unfortunately for pretty much all of us, this practice doesn’t seem to be going away. In fact, it will likely become more popular. Gartner predicts that by 2014, somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of all online reviews will be paid for by companies seeking to build bigger follower bases, generate video views, get Facebook Likes and, of course, display more positive online reviews. And they’re willing to solicit these things by offering coupons or special promotions or, in some cases, just straight cash.
With so many avenues on the ‘Net that businesses can use to deceptively control consumers’ perception of their brands, it begs the question, “Who can we trust online these days?”