Faking reputation. Hard to believe! YELP knows so. The review site says that 20% of reviews never see the light of day. They are considered either suspect or fraudalent. Some businesses even try to commission people to write reviews or bribe product users to write something positive. You can solicit these reivewers-for-hire people on craigslist. What gets me, however, is that there is an entire cottage industry of reviewers-for-hire who will write bad reviews that knock a business's competition. An article in Ad Age last week presented a slew of facts that makes me wonder where this will all end -- a Gartner study reported that fake reviews would grow to to nearly 15% in the next two years. They even forecast that the FTC will be taking a few Fortune 500 companies to court for faking reviews within the next few years. These reputation fake outs will weaken credibility of review sites when they've never been so important. Starting this past week, YELP is going to shame businesses that pay for fake reviews to shine up their reputations. Read this article to learn more. By setting up a sting operation (the stuff of spy novels), YELP is said to be exposing eight companies by placing the following consumer alert on their profiles: “We caught someone red-handed trying to buy reviews for this business.” (See above picture for the real deal) Potential customers will see the incriminating e-mails trying to hire a reviewer. And don't expect these alerts to go away soon. Definitely a red-faced moment if caught.
This all makes me think again about how important reputation is in this information age where everything is accessible and disclosable. Reviews that lead to positive and negative reputation are their own form of currency and wealth. The lengths to which businesses will go to protect or heighten their reputations are endless (and sometimes deviant).
I can't say I am surprised. Recent research we did on corporate reputation found that online reviews were nearly as important as word of mouth and recommendations from friends and family. I think that weeding out the fake outs is going to be a big business itself to maintain the credibility of reviewers.