Reputation forgery

Case-Studies-Dealing-With-Handwriting-Forgery Fake commentary. This weekend I received constant fake commentary to my blog -- every minute. I deleted over 1000 or more in the end. I just could not believe that anyone cares enough to assault my blog like that but apparently wordpress has been having these robo-attacks which affects its users. Very annoying.

On the subject of fakery and forging online reviews, this morning I read about the proliferation of fake reviews online. It is estimated that by 2014, nearly  10 to 15% of social media reviews will be fake. The problem with this is obvious to all -- reputations are won and lost by such phony reviews. How many times have you turned away from a product because a review was scathing or negative? And how often has that bad review made you think less of the company behind the brand or anything else that company sells? This causes reputation doubt.

Some of our research at Weber Shandwick has found that online reviews were becoming nearly as important as professional reviews. For example,by more than a margin, consumers pay attention to consumer reviews over professional reviews for consumer electronics products (77% to 23%). They read 11 online reviews on average before purchasing products. Online reviews surely affect the bottom line. New York's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is leading a crackdown on companies in the business of creating false online reviews, gives good reasons as to why this is more than an annoyance:  "Harvard Business School found that increasing a restaurant's review score by one star on could boost business up to 8 percent. Cornell researchers found an extra star on Travelocity or TripAdvisor could translate into an 11 percent increase in a room rate." So there you go. Fake reviews destroy reputations and profitabilty.

Many of these firms hire people in other countries who get paid $1 up to $10 to write one negative review. Luckily, our attorney general in New York is trying to get rid of them and is giving out large fines to keep them from continuing this bad behavior.  Reputations deserve better than this.



Reputation fake outs!

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.