Fake Reviews (Part 1) – Tips for Businesses

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Online review sites can certainly be useful, for consumers and for businesses. Service providers, hotel and restaurant proprietors can gain an overview of customer opinions. Positive consumer reviews on the internet are a useful, and more importantly free form of advertising for a company. Act with caution! Review sites are often gamed. And this can have consequences! What can companies do to protect themselves?

Belittling the competition and blowing one’s own trumpet in the guise of an online review

 

More and more fake reviews are emerging on the internet. We can distinguish between two types of fake review. The first type consists of former employees or market competitors who leave fake negative reviews to purposely damage a company’s image. Negative reviews tend to spread rapidly and at worst may compromise the existence of a company. The second type of fake review is created by the company itself. The aim of these reviews is to present the company in a better light and to highlight the company’s services and products. Should the competition make use of such ludicrous methods, it is quite possible that current or potential customers decide to change to the “allegedly” better company.

Fake Review Hotel

Fake review: Dingy hotel. Top reviews.
How is that even possible? [Source: Philipp Möller/stern.de]

Hot on the trail of fake reviews

In order to uncover manipulated feedback, we need to look more closely at the online reviews. We asked our IT-expert Mario Wellner for some tips and advice on how to recognise fake reviews. Here’s what he said

Review sites are often abused. What possibilities does a company have if it suspects that there are fake reviews online about its services or products?

Mario: The first step is to check the content of reviews for plausibility issues. Does the rating fit the mood of the review? Or does the content fit in to the chosen category? The writing style can also shed light on the authenticity of the review. A standard guest or customer is less likely to use well-formulated sentences and extravagant marketing texts. Should the person who wrote the view have a user profile for the site in question, this often says a lot about the credibility of the review. Is the user anonymous or does he reveal a lot of personal details? Does the profile have a picture, contain personal information and most importantly further reviews made by this user? Do these factors combined portray the image of a normal user or can an unusual pattern be identified?

Not only fake negative reviews are common nowadays but also purchased positive reviews about products and services. How can these be identified?

Mario: Again, the elocution and length of the text can point to whether or not the reviews are authentic. Repeated use of advertising phrases und repetition of the company or product name should be treated with caution. Products or services with solely positive or only negative reviews should also be treated cautiously. Actual customers often rate products very differently which then results in a more balanced rating. Also conspicuous: reviews with only excellent or only poor ratings (1 star and 5 stars).

Is there a way to protect yourself against fake reviews?

Mario: Unfortunately there is no one-hundred percent guarantee. Ratings on review sites can be sifted only manually and even if there is a suspicion of a fake review, you have to get in touch with the site operators. And then you have to find an agreement as to which reviews can be removed.

What measures are taken by site operators to filter out fake reviews?

Mario: With the use of filter software for text analysis or an IP filter, fake reviews can be detected. These recognise recurring sentences and identical sentence structure within reviews. They can also identify when an unusually large number of reviews are made from the same IP address. Reviews made from foreign IP addresses can also be detected, from countries which don’t correspond to a product’s end customers.

Are there any safe methods which customers can use to gather customer feedback?

Mario: A company can restrict access to its questionnaire, by limiting reviews to terminals and devices (e.g. tablets or smart phones) which can be found on site. It is also possible to restrict access with a code, which is exclusively issued to actual customers and can be used only once and may even be set a time limit for use. The repeated submission of feedback from one device can also be technically restricted.

What are the advantages of these methods in comparison to online review sites?

Mario: With some online survey tools, the settings can be adjusted so that the questionnaire can be completed only once. A customer is also able to submit feedback by scanning a QR code or entering a link, both of which can be strategically placed on the menu in a café or restaurant. That means the consumer can only access the questionnaire when they are actually on site. Another possibility would be to use the GPS location services of a smartphone. The user can therefore only access the questionnaire when they are at least near the location to be rated.

You also need to be careful using this method because some review apps allow the end user to access alternative locations. Some customer feedback tools allow users to access the questionnaires of all listed clients and their other branches. For example, you could be sitting in Hamburg but are able to access the questionnaires for shops and restaurants in Munich and at the same time submit feedback, without having ever visited the locations. That defeats the purpose of customer feedback.

Preventing Fake Reviews

Nevertheless, companies need customer feedback because it is an important and helpful indicator of product and service quality. Product and service reviews also play an important role for customers when deciding what product to purchase.

In part two of our blog series “fake reviews”, we will provide you with a few tips on how the consumer can protect himself and not fall into the trap of fake reviews. It is impossible to prevent all fake internet reviews. But with the help of a few survey tools we can restrict the number of fake reviews, for example by gathering customer feedback locally via QR code or shortlink.

A company can only make changes based on authentic reviews. Direct customer feedback helps a company to improve its products and services. If the customer is satisfied, then so is the company (also financially).

 

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Review sites & fake reviews

 

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