Fake reviews: why and how businesses can steer clear of fraudulent content and gain consumers' trust

FAKE

With the growth of mobile usage reaching 1.5 billion of users globally, consumers today have easy access to content about a brand, its products and services, as well as tools to quickly create and share opinions, photos and videos, across a variety of social media channels. However, out of all this content, we have recently seen numerous instances of brands fighting fraudulent forms of it. Amazon, for example, announced its plans to sue 1,114 fake reviewers, claiming that the brand reputation is being damaged by "false, misleading and inauthentic" reviews paid for by sellers seeking to improve the appeal of their product. This is the second suit by the online retailer this year, clearly showing that the proliferation of fraudulent online reviews is becoming a critical issue for businesses to address.

Yet consumers have not lost faith in online reviews -- in fact, a survey reveals online reviews impact 67.7 percent of respondents' purchasing decisions. More than half of the respondents (54.7 percent) also admitted that online reviews are fairly, very, or absolutely an important part of their decision-making process, showcasing how much consumers today value authentic peer to peer recommendations. Brands therefore need to take actions to ensure consumers can still rely on and have access to only authentic consumer-generated content (CGC), such as reviews.

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How to Ensure Authenticity of Consumer-Generated Content

According to a Bazaarvoice survey, doubts persist regarding the integrity of review content, regardless of the type of website where it is displayed, with more than half of all respondents between the US and UK stating that they believe companies remove negative reviews. Furthermore, 48 percent and 50 percent of respondents in the US and UK respectively, expressed concerns that one or more of the reviews they read online is fake.

There is a mix of practices that can affect the trustworthiness of reviews such as spam in many forms (i.e. automated submissions by bots, disruptive or trolling behavior, commercial messages, illegitimate or degrading content by a client’s competitor), dishonest behaviour such as filtering, editing, or deleting reviews because they are negative or are lower rated, just to mention a few. Companies sometimes directly solicit positive reviews, for example, they might be incentivized (via discounts or other means) or authored by an employee without proper disclosures.

Manipulating reviews violates the most basic ethical practices a company can hold, as they can falsely affect consumers’ purchase decisions and damage the company’s reputation. Consumers have a fundamental right to trust the content they encounter, and moreover, businesses have a responsibility to ensure this content is legitimate.

In research commissioned by Bazaarvoice, 84 percent of consumers stated that they would feel more trusting of reviews if they knew the reviews were screened for fraud, they were moderated, and displayed by a neutral, credible third party. 45 percent of respondents say they were more trusting of reviews that had passed through a technology filter and human analysis, but only 14 percent of respondents say a technology filter alone is sufficient.

Displaying some sort of industry mark like a trust mark along with consumer reviews, is a step brands should consider to demonstrate their commitment to authentic consumer feedback. This will also help increase consumers’ trust towards reviews - in fact, 47 percent of respondents say they "would be more trusting of the reviews" if presented with a trust mark and an accompanying description of anti-fraud policies displayed when reading online reviews.

Authentic customer feedback has huge potential to positively influence buying intent and audience’s opinion. Brands seeking to improve their reputation, while staying ahead of the curve in a competitive landscape, can no longer overlook the importance and impact of engaging in consumers’ conversations, whether positive or negative, being transparent in their communications, and leveraging authentic consumer feedback.

Benefits of Leveraging Authentic Consumer-Generated Content

Authentic CGC is a great opportunity for brands to build trust, and acquire more content that will lead to higher conversion rates and help create lasting, valuable relationships. The reality is that it’s no longer about traditional marketing results, such as conversions - people don’t want just a product or service, but are seeking an authentic experience.

Authentic customer feedback is also a precious form of R&D for brands and retailers - insight from reviews can be invaluable: inform better business decisions, lead to innovation, and ameliorate the customer experience. In today’s omni-channel age, brands need to fully understand their consumer audience and the most appropriate platforms through which to engage with them; they need to go where conversations happen, with CGC being an evolution of these conversations.

The influence of reviews on consumers’ purchasing behavior can no longer be ignored, and businesses need to take a lead in calling for transparency and commitment to deliver a positive shopping experience. Authenticity is fundamental to the value of these reviews, and companies must recognize that doing everything within their power to leverage only authentic content is in their self-interest, as it enables them to ultimately elevate their brand above the competition.

Amazon’s intentions with this latest lawsuit are good and are a strong first step in changing consumer behavior. However, brands need to address the underlying issue that the system in place today allows for this type of fraudulent behavior. Brands need to work towards an environment where all stakeholders can trust the authenticity of online content. Lending from our mission statement, the way to affect the ecosystem is to challenge the online status quo by focusing on "one authentic conversation at a time".

Photo: Elwynn/Shutterstock

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