Remember that warpath Amazon went on last year against fake reviews?
For anyone who thought the legendary online retail company would have gotten that fire out of their system by now, no such luck. For the last year, the company has kept a steady stream of lawsuit announcements coming, all of them against shady sellers of fake reviews and all of them involving hundreds of fraudsters. Now, as if to remind everyone of just deadly serious they are about eradicating fake reviews, Amazon has announced a lawsuit against three sellers.
According to the announcement, these sellers had set up fake accounts on Amazon and then used those accounts to post positive reviews about their own products. To avoid too negative of a backlash from concerned shoppers, Amazon spokeswoman Julie Law recovered:
"As always, it is important for customers to know that these remain a very small fraction of the reviews on Amazon and we introduced a review ranking system so that the most recent, helpful reviews appear first. The vast majority of reviews on Amazon are authentic, helping millions of customers make informed buying decisions every day."
It's safe to say that Amazon hates fake reviews, and they probably won't be the last to have that opinion. In fact, it's looking more and more like fake reviews are about to become an endangered species online.
This is just one reason why it's so shocking how many companies still think that fake reviews-created either by paying strangers or by using a company's own employees-are a perfectly acceptable means of getting online attention.
With fake reviews' days numbered, here are four big reasons companies need to get off this train before it derails:
Online consumer reviews have never been so highly prized as they are now. With more consumer than ever turning to online reviews to make their purchasing decisions, people are starting to see the crucial role they play in our economy and democracy.
Like never before, consumers can speak up about the products and services they received, be heard by companies and other consumers alike, and have a real impact on a company's bottom line.
With its lawsuits, Amazon has used its considerable influence to put online reviews at the forefront of minds online, as mentioned previously. Similarly, Yelp has gone to bat legally to protect consumer reviews from tampering.
And then, with the creation of the Consumer Review Freedom Act of 2015, its passage in the U.S. House of Representative, and its likely passage in the U.S. Senate this year, online consumer reviews have clearly landed on center stage.
Yes, the Powers That Be are clearly on the side of preserving the purity of online reviews-and that entails killing fake reviews. Anyone who stands on the opposite of this fight is probably going to lose.
This should be a sign to anyone who has come to rely on fake reviews to sell their goods that this strategy is unsustainable. Sooner or later, not only Amazon, Yelp, and the U.S. Congress, but such heavies as Google and Facebook-who are struggling to retain consumers' trust-are going to decide that they need to put the kibosh on fake reviews.
Fake reviews are simply a liability that pays them nothing but places their trustworthiness at serious risk.
The Target data breach. Volkswagen's emissions fib. The financial meltdown of 2008. Add to this list any number of scandals that have rocked consumers' trust in even the most venerated brands, and you start to see why consumers' trust of companies is at an all-time low.
Just how low? A new study from Forrester Research finds that only 32% of consumers trust ads of any kind.
Where consumers used to trust the authority of companies to deliver quality, reliability, and trustworthy information, consumers are now extremely suspicious toward any company messages they receive.
And lest you think that they'll give reviews a pass, think again. Consumers can spot a fake review from a mile away, reviews that are far too positive or too vague or that hew too closely to company messaging. They do this often without realizing it, but always it leaves a bad taste in their mouths, whether consciously or subconsciously.
The end result is that fake reviews achieve the opposite of their intended purpose. Instead of boosting consumers' perceptions of your company, they tear them down and make your company look cheap and untrustworthy.
We've already covered how consumer reviews have becoming a critical part of the process by which consumers make smarter buying decisions, reward good companies, and shun companies that neglect their customers. But in buying fake reviews, companies are essentially admitting that they are willing to tear this system down to get a few extra sales.
What they don't realize is, they are tearing down one of the last vehicles that consumers trust. We've already established that they don't trust ads. They don't trust any company-published content. But they do trust reviews. Right now, in online reviews, companies have a place where happy customers can proudly post positive reviews about companies and other consumers can trust that the information they're getting is relatively unbiased. These reviews are literally one of the last venues that consumers trust.
So what happens if fake reviews ruin consumer trust in reviews?
Well, aside from cutting off a vital source of useful customer feedback, these companies will have only left themselves with one less trustworthy venue for gaining consumers' trust. And they won't have many left.
This is the truth that should haunt the dreams of every fake review-buyer. And it's a truth that might be too bitter for many a marketer to face head-on. If you have to buy positive reviews, when other companies are able to get positive reviews honestly, why is that? Why are your customers not happy enough to, at least, leave a pleasant blurb about their experience with you?
When things don't work the way they should, customers aren't going to gush about your product to their friends. But they are likely to post a negative review and throw up a photo on Instagram.
A new survey from American Express both confirms that happy customers are usually more than happy to tell others about good companies and exposes the failure of most companies to make their customers happy. First, consider this stat:
"On average, happy customers tell an average of nine people about their experience."
Who wouldn't want that kind of free marketing-and the best, most powerful kind of marketing to boot? Yes, these happy customers are talking to their friends and loved ones, but they're also gushing online on blogs, social media, and review sites. Naturally, companies should be salivating over this opportunity, tripping over themselves to delight their customers, right?
Wrong. The same survey found that:
Even when product problems arise, good customer service will find a way to turn it into a positive experience for customers, one that they will want to share in a review. Conversely, bad customer service can sour even the most favorable product experience. Until you fix your customer service, it will taint and sabotage all of the work of the rest of your company.
What if you have a good product and good customer service and you still aren't seeing organic positive reviews? If this is truly the case, your customers might need just a nudge to get them going. But beware: asking customers to post reviews about your company needs to be handled skillfully, following these guidelines:
No one wants to take the time to type up a review, only to have it float around in either without being acknowledged. If customers see that others' reviews fall on deaf ears, they're much less likely to submit a review of their own.
What if it's a bad review? Shouldn't you stamp it out before anyone can see it? Smart companies will avoid this knee-jerk reaction, understanding the value that even the worst reviews can hold. Markidan says, "A bad review from a good customer is a generous gift that can help you make great changes, and ultimately make a lot more customers happy."
Any company that values its long-term reputation can't afford to overlook the imminent downfall of fake reviews-or the value of pursuing authentic reviews. And this isn't because Amazon or some other heavy hitter is breathing down their neck. It's because any other strategy is unsustainable and toxic.
Yes, actual positive reviews take time and investment. They require a high level of discipline and alignment for whole organizations, and this doesn't happen overnight. In the end, however, anyone who relies on anything less than authentic reviews from actual customers is, well, faking themselves out.