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Summary:

If you think fake online reviews are bad now, just wait a few years. Gartner predicts that in two to three years, 10 to 15 percent of all online reviews will be bought and paid for by businesses.

A recent spate of fake online reviews is just the beginning of a trend, according to Gartner research.

The book publishing world was roiled by the recent disclosure that self-published author John Locke bought Amazon reviews and author Stephen Leather used “sock puppet” accounts to build online buzz  for his books, as GigaOM’s Laura Owen reported earlier. This kerfuffle comes after months of reports about too-good-or-bad-to-be-true restaurant and other reviews on Yelp and other online review sites.

Well, get ready, because it’s just the beginning, according to Gartner, which expects that 10 to 15 percent of all online reviews will be paid for by companies within two years. As companies seek to cash in on consumer time spent on online review sites, Facebook and Twitter, it’s not surprising that companies would try to steer consumer perception of their products.

According to a statement by Gartner senior research analyst Jenny Sussin:

With over half of the Internet’s population on social networks, organizations are scrambling for new ways to build bigger follower bases, generate more hits on videos, garner more positive reviews than their competitors and solicit ‘likes’ on their Facebook pages … Many marketers have turned to paying for positive reviews with cash, coupons and promotions including additional hits on YouTube videos in order to pique site visitors’ interests in the hope of increasing sales, customer loyalty and customer advocacy through social media ‘word of mouth’ campaigns.

Three years ago, the FTC found that companies paying for rave reviews without disclosing that the reviewer was compensated constitutes deceptive advertising and can be prosecuted. Gartner thinks that means companies will take a proactive role policing reviews that defame their products and services and pressure online sites to remove them. That will give rise to “reputation defense” companies specializing in such practices.

 

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  1. Lynda Radosevich Monday, September 17, 2012

    Barb – I’ll bet that the rise of fake reviews is good news for journalists, reviewers and other taste-makers who gain people’s trust through professional, high-quality work. It’s the countervailing trend to user-generated content gone amok.

  2. The key is that you have to trust who the reviews are coming from, so social networks provide the perfect platform for communicating online reviews. We see Google doing that with Google+ now.

    In fact we just launched a business application for Facebook that shows you reviews from your friends. It’s called Good Peeple – check it out at http://www.goodpeeple.com

    -James

  3. What is interesting is that Gartner does research reports for the very same vendors – so, does that mean that Gartner’s reports can be slanted to benefit who is paying for it?

    In one respect, this has always been done – Vendors buy ads in magazines – which employ reviewers – although there is supposed to be a “wall” between editorial and advertising, who knows what goes on behind the scenes?

    1. I think the real trick here is to look at the content of the review and the methodologies used to review the product – if the methodologies and testing tools are not revealed, then the review is likely suspect – however, if the product is tested in an environment that is repeatable by others and the testing process is exposed, then the review, regardless of how it was commissioned should be accurate – normally, numbers don’t lie – things get a little more fuzzy, when the review is based upon “feelings” and not empirical data – ease of use and look and feel are prime examples where opinions can be compromised, unless it is backed by third party research – ultimately, it will be up to the reader to determine if a review “looks and feels” right.

  4. Reblogged this on Red Paint Blog and commented:
    I’ve noticed this more and more lately. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t trust any rating with less than 200 reviews to back it up.

  5. The fake review problem is definitely real and significantly diminishes the value of these sites. There needs to be some layer of accountability for reviews to be trusted. There is also a motivation problem… some people who post on Yelp (when not fake) often do so out of some recent experience that compels them to tell the world about it. This is usually “loved it” or “hated it”. Tout’d (www.toutd.com) provides for social accountability as you only get reviews from friends or friends of friends. You also get recommendations that are in response to a friend’s request for a recommendation. The motivation for posting a review on Tout’d is to help. This makes reviews more valuable, trustworthy, and actionable. Check it out… tell me what you think about it.

  6. “That will give rise to “reputation defense” companies specializing in such practices.”

    They already exist. I get spam from them all the time.

    1. i should have said “more” reputation defense companies…

  7. Barb – The main problem with fake reviews being this pervasive is that these reviews will eventually call into question everything that is posted on open forums. How do you know which are fake and/or attached to a promotion versus “authentic”?

    In essence, the entire pot of soup is spoiled because people will not know which spoonful is safe or not. This is emblematic of paid search and the effects that paid SEO has as well.

    We believe that the only way forward will make use of social networks to vet any and all reviews and recommendations through those people connected to you. That’s why we started Tout’d (www.toutd.com). We would love to know your thoughts on our solution to this problem. What you see now is our version 1.0, A fully redesigned site is coming next week.

  8. It is so true. And the worst is that legitimate businesses can barely exist in front of fakes on social network. No wonder some are going “blackhat”.
    My point of view is that its exactly like in real life. The solution is not to listen to the crowd and its rumors (or worst : the advertisement), but to an expert that you know/trust.
    I ve seen a company http://www.scanandtrust.com who does this kind of thing on the matter of trust on websites.

  9. The key is to provide an easy way to collect real reviews from real people. Check out the service at http://www.reviewinc.com. These guys have a great product and they know what they’re doing.

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