Online reviews have never been more influential. Stats show that 97% of consumers search online for reviews when considering a product or service. And 93% say that their decision is directly impacted by online reviews. Which is all very well for businesses regularly garnering four or five-star reviews and glowing comments about their business, products, services and customer care. Or for businesses with a robust online review management strategy in place that are actively investing in managing their company reviews. But what about when a business is hit by a slew of negative or even fake reviews?
These can have a catastrophic effect on businesses of all sizes. Really damaging your reputation, sales and growth. Just four negative reviews can cost your company 70% of potential customers.
Online reviews are hugely influential
The UK Government’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) estimates that online reviews influence around £23 billion of customer spending in the UK every year. From the 75% of UK adults that regularly use online review websites, around half believe they have seen fake online reviews, according to the Chartered Institute of Marketing. Over in the US, analysts say that possibly up to half of online reviews for specific products on sites like Amazon are unreliable.
The ability for companies to purchase negative reviews against a competitor has huge repercussions. And it is big business. In 2013, Samsung was fined for paying people to negatively review HTC products. Six years on and consumer awareness of fake reviews has grown exponentially. Consumers now realise that they may be looking at fake reviews, which can negatively impact businesses that have a high level of authentic reviews.
Their biggest challenges they face is finding a brand they trust. And it’s this challenge that is behind the significance of online reviews. When it comes to shopping for something from an unknown brand, consumers are more willing to be influenced by collective advice. So, if your business is at the mercy of too many negative reviews, whether fake or authentic, the consequences can be catastrophic.
What can businesses do to combat fake negative reviews?
If you wake up one day and find your business has been targeted by a slew of one- star reviews, fake or otherwise, what can you do? Firstly, remember that consumers are pretty savvy when it comes to recognising fake reviews. Around 80% say they know when they see one.
Companies like Amazon, Yelp and specific review sites are working hard to combat the scourge of fake reviews. For example, there are various online plugins that can help to weed out fake reviews, such as Fakespot.
While this might be good for the long term, if you are dealing with a number of fake negative reviews, your priority is to mitigate any damage they do to your brand. For example, you can change the way you collect authentic reviews to show consumers more clearly that they can be trusted.
Asking for detail is one way to do this. An obvious tell for a fake review is generally sparse detail. The review may talk in vague terms and focus on the situation, rather than the product itself. Fake reviews often are emotive and home in on a single emotion. The way you request customer feedback is one way to show which reviews are authentic. Presenting a feedback form can help to do this, rather than an empty textbox. Try to get authentic customers to write something rather than simply mark out of five.
Keep collecting authentic reviews
Don’t be put off collecting real, authentic reviews. It can be tempting to simply turn the review function off, if that’s possible. But this also negatively impacts the consumer. Studies show that a star rating of around 4.2 is the sweet spot for building customer trust. If all of your reviews are 5 star it can look fake, and if all are 1 star, it looks untrustworthy. Your review management strategy should incorporate all of this and focus on building more authentic reviews by offering excellent service.
Above all, have a strategy in place. Take the issue seriously and understand the massive impact online reviews have on your business. A colossal 65 million opinions are uploaded to review sites and forums every single month. Businesses with loads of low star reviews statistically fail to convert 90% of possible customers. That’s how much online reviews affect consumer behaviour.
The impact of fake reviews
Even large corporations are not immune. In 2017, supporters of President Trump attacked news station CNN’s mobile app with thousands of 1-star reviews. This is an extreme example of organised manipulation of reviews to achieve a specific result.
There are two strands to the increasingly impactful world of fake reviews – positive and negative. In 2018, a BBC report showed that fake online reviews are openly bought and sold on the Internet. For example, online forums exist that allow Amazon shoppers to effectively get a product for free in exchange for a positive review.
Similarly, TripAdvisor was caught in a scandal when a journalist manipulated reviews to get his fake restaurant to the top of the list. These incidences have led to these companies instigating ever-stricter ways to try and stop fake online reviews. But it is an uphill battle.
Protect your reputation
The best thing you can do to help protect your business from the damage negative and fake reviews can cause is to have a review management strategy, manage your online reviews and regularly review it to generate authentic positive reviews and strategically challenging negative, fake or defamatory reviews. It should be a part of your business strategy.