Fake online reviews: Do they really affect my business?
No doubt about it, there’s a war on in the world of online reviews, and it isn’t just genuine customers who are losing out. The Internet is full of terrible stories of destroyed businesses and it seems that there’s a pattern emerging.
Online reviews are a “small business” game
A new study published by Boston University this month has found some interesting correlations between business size and online reviews.
It spotted the fact that small businesses are the ones that need online reviews. They represent free advertising for companies that probably don’t have much – if any – budget for commercializing their products and services.
Word-of-mouth advertising has long been considered one of the best ways to get the message out to potential customers, and online reviews are the epitome of word-of-mouth in our new digital age.
Larger companies, like restaurant chains and franchises don’t need to rely on online reviews to keep their customers coming through the doors. They have big budgets, TV commercials, and some have reputations going back 30-40 years. It doesn’t matter to those companies what a few customers think, because the brands are so ingrained in the American culture already.
Small businesses really feel the pain
Sadly, it can also go so terribly wrong for those small businesses if they get a seriously negative review. Worse still, the anonymous nature of some review websites (Yelp, for example) means that not only can people get away with saying awful and sometimes untrue things, but they’re also more likely to be over-the-top vitriolic, because no-one can see them and call them out.
Some sites, like TripAdvisor, do everything in their power to ensure that their reviews are written by genuine, identifiable customers, but it’s often still not enough.
Many small company owners are being driven out of business by sad and horrible reviews on very big online review websites, and in some circumstances this situation has been exacerbated by the websites’ attempts to filter out possible fake reviews.
Even customers that have gone onto the website specifically to write a nice review about a company are finding that because they’ve never written a review before, their opinions are filtered into an almost invisible list that don’t affect the business’ ratings at all.
Small businesses can feel very helpless sometimes
Obviously for some businesses, it feels as if there is no recompense or way to deal with bad reviews, and whether in desperation or sheer bad will, have resorted to writing fake reviews or paying for writers to do so. These fakes are either positive shots for the company itself, or negative reviews for competitors.
The Boston University study found that the biggest offenders of fake reviewing were small businesses, but rather than this being an indictment on those people and their ethics, it should probably be regarded as a symptom of the helplessness that owners may feel when faced with a damaging review.
However, there is a silver lining of hope here. As new, modernized, online review websites emerge, they have better ways of ensuring that reviews are genuine, accurate, and useful. iTrueReview is one of the new generation review sites, and with its ability to guarantee that a customer is present in the business while making their review, in addition to how it posts reviews across the Internet on many websites, it represents genuine hope and reputation management help for small businesses across the review community.