The Sydney Morning Herald recently featured an interesting article about a new generation of consumers who are willing to write fake online product reviews for cash.
I’ve written about the power of online reviews before, when Cone released research stating that 87% of consumers purchase products based purely on online reviews. Since then, Nielson have concurred with a slightly more conservative estimate:
“71% of Australians look at web reviews from other members of the public — on sites such as Google Local, Urban Spoon, Yelp, TripAdvisor and Amazon — before buying.”
Either way, it’s clear that reviews are big business and usually where there’s big business, there’s a handful of people looking to make a fast buck.
Enter Luke, 18 from Melbourne who offers a detailed review of your ipad or iphone apps for just $5 a pop. In his ad, he reassures prospective buyers that he is a registered ‘IOS’ Developer and knows what it takes for a user to want to download an app.
In his own words: “I ask them what rating they are hoping to achieve, and if they say they want four stars I’ll try to give them four stars. Mainly just focusing on the positive content helps a bit,” Luke told Fairfax. “There is a bit of an ethical issue there; I won’t lie.”
Michelle is another Australian who enjoys cash for comment. Specialising in video testimonials she promises that if you provide the script, she will say it word for word.
Luke and Michelle are just a few of the growing number of consumers out there who are willing to sell-out online for just a few dollars.
But what is it that makes them happy to lie in a public environment? My guess is that because they are writing reviews on websites not affiliated with their own personal networks, they are more willing to tell the odd white lie here and there. I mean, who would ever know it was them? It’s not like they literally know the readers on these sites, plus many use fake usernames so there’s no real risk of them being found out.
And this only means that the credibility of consumer reviews on third party review sites will start to wane as more and more become at the mercy of a $5 purchase.
Interestingly SMH published a poll asking readers how much faith they put in online reviews. You can see the results below (at time of writing this):
It seems that for the majority of Australians, online reviews are used only as a rough guide when purchasing products. I do though question the validity of the poll, it was answered after reading a scathing article about fake reviews so the results will hardly be impartial.
So, does this mean online word of mouth will become less effective?
Absolutely not. In-fact quite the contrary. What we’ll see is a shift towards brands focussing on more trusted forms of word of mouth between trusted friends and within social networks.
If you think about it – people are less likely to publish fake reviews within their own networks like Facebook & personal blogs, because this puts their reputation and credibility on the line. If your friends know you hate Microsoft (and have listened to you complaining about Microsoft products) they’re unlikely to believe your 5 star review for a Microsoft product on your social network.
As a result, genuine recommendations will only become more valuable as the fakers are exposed and the third party review sites are taken with a pinch of salt. In my opinion, it was always the trusted recommendations between genuine friends that truly provided value – it’s these relationships that convert to purchases after-all (Mckinseys research found 20 – 50% of all purchase decisions are based on word of mouth recommendations but this is relevant only to messages passed within tight, trusted networks that may have less reach, but have greater impact in terms of purchase-intent.).
Plus the strength of a recommendation between trusted friends has always massively outperformed the strength of an ‘online’ friend with Mckinsesys research finding that “a high impact recommendation – from a trusted friend conveying a relevant message is up to 50 times more likely to trigger a purchase than is a low-impact recommendation’ (from someone you don’t know that well).”
I do wonder who is actually paying the gung-ho consumers to write fake reviews and if as more and more companies are ousted, the trend will organically grind to a halt.
If the book industry is anything to go by, people will start to realise that the short-term gain of a fake positive review is not worth the long term hassle of being found out.
R.J. Ellory a successful crime writer seems to have learned his lesson when he admitted to posting positive reviews on his own work on Amazon.com, calling himself “one of the most talented authors of today” and describing his book as “a modern masterpiece” that “will touch your soul”.
The lessons are two-fold:
1) don’t try to fool anyone in social media because you will end up with egg on your face
2) don’t give up on word of mouth recommendations just yet – the real ones are here to stay.