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Are fake online reviews crushing consumer confidence?

Jen A. Miller | Dec. 1, 2015
While a certain percentage of them are almost certainly suspect, customer-driven online ratings and reviews are just too powerful to simply ignore. But does anyone really trust them?

If consumers don't think they can trust reviews, a site might not just lose that sale, but a customer for good. 

That's why DealNews polices what Lindsay Sakraida, director of content marketing for DealNews calls their "fairly healthy commenting community." The site collects and curates deals from around the Web and picks what they see to be the best 200 or so to share with their readers, who can then share their experiences with the deal, and then some. 

"We really like to get their input if they really believe a deal is good or whether they think there's a better price elsewhere," she says. 

The site knows that if comments are fake, spammy and clearly dropped onto the site by a manufacturer who wants to promote an item, they'll lose readers. 

"It's a trust issue," she says. "You really want to show them that you have content that will be consistently of a certain standard and therefore will be worth their time. If they are constantly seeing content that is suspicious to them, they're not going to trust the information you're giving even if it's not from Deal News."  

Being authentic in online reviews

DealNews' main form of user-generated content is comments, but on most ecommerce websites, it's reviews and those star ratings. For its clients, Bazaarvoice, whose clients include Adidas, Chicos and Geico, has created an Authenticity Policy, which is an agreement that governs behavior of both Bazaarvoice and clients to ensure that consumer generated content is authentic. 

The three tenants of this policy is that the content is free from fraud and spam; free from edits, classification and alteration; and transparent. For the last tenant, they ensure that companies are not asked to write positive reviews and that if consumers are offered compensation for positive reviews, that transaction must be disclosed. Reviews that meet these standards are marked with an Authentic Views Trust Mark. 

"We're trying to empower customers or end users by helping them make better purchasing decisions," says Griffin. 

In that same survey, Bazaarvoice found that 44 percent of U.S. consumers says they would be more trusting of reviews if they saw a trust mark and accompanying description of anti-fraud policies. 

The policy has also been used as a model for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association's authenticity guidelines code of ethics. 

While Griffin says it's hard to pinpoint who is at fault when bad reviews infiltrate a site, companies need to make sure they're stopped, period. "People are savvy. They're also going to do their own research. To help maintain and keep reviews viable, we believe they need to be authentic," she says. "It's an important vehicle for making purchasing decisions."

 

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