Consumer group Which? made a troubling discovery earlier this month. Two large Facebook groups dedicated solely to posting misleading five-star reviews on products. Together, they may have nearly 87,000 members, all engaged in trying to trick people into buying products they’ve never actually used.
How it works is fairly simple. A company that wants their product ‘reviewed’ posts details on the group’s Facebook page. Members from the group then purchase the product, write their review, and receive a refund through a third-party service – usually Paypal.
“Bogus online reviews have plagued the Internet for years, yet Which? said they remain highly influential,” writes The Guardian’s Patrick Collinson. “97% [of the group’s members still[ use online reviews when researching a product, but 31% were disappointed after buying a product because of excellent feedback scores.”
Honestly? I’m almost tempted to join both groups, but not for the reasons you might think. I want to join them because to me, they’ll serve as a laundry list of brands I’ll never trust again.
I get wanting people to purchase your stuff. I get feeling like you don’t have a fair shake these days, given all the competition that exists in the digital marketplace. But buying reviews is not the way to go about bringing in new customers.
In the modern marketplace, the most valuable commodity of all is trust. People, millennials especially, want to do business with brands that offer authenticity. They want to be assured that your business has their best interests at heart, and that you’re willing to be open and honest with them.
Fake reviews are right up there with purchasing affiliate links in terms of ‘terrible marketing tactics only a fool would ever use.’ First of all, it a kick to the teeth for your customers – a dishonest, lazy tactic that ultimately shows you care more about making money than about helping your brand succeed. It demonstrates that you’re only in it for the money.
Never mind the fact that fake reviews are currently in the crosshairs of the FTC. Get caught relying on them to too great an extent, and you could wind up with not only a boatload of fines, but a reputation that’s damaged beyond repair. Because here’s the thing – consumer trust in online businesses is at an all time low.
Let me see if I can put together an analogy to help make my point more salient.
Let’s say you run one of two car dealerships in a small town. Business is good, but it could be a whole lot better – especially if you can somehow oust the competition. Trouble is, most of your lot consists of lemons.
One day, you get a bright idea. You’re going to pay a few people to spread glowing recommendations about your dealership, while also talking smack about your rival. Before long, you think, you’ll be the only dealership in town.
Only…there’s one problem. It’s a small town, and people talk. Eventually, word gets out about what you’ve done. Someone mentions they bought a lemon from you after a friend of a friend told them how great your cars were.
It doesn’t take long for your dealership to go out of business – no one trusts you anymore.
Right. So fake reviews are a horrible decision. But how exactly can you get people to review your products, then?
In a few ways.
- Focus on providing excellent customer care through your online storefront. Make sure there’s always support personnel available to address any problems a customer might have.
- Seek to constantly improve your products. If you receive a negative review, step back and ask yourself why you received that review. Sure, maybe it’s just sour grapes from the reviewer – but it also might indicate there’s something you can improve about that product.
- Ask people after they’ve purchased something. A polite email or message on your store can go a long way towards generating good feedback.
- Offer some sort of extra incentive for people who’ve purchased from you to review your products. Maybe they get access to a a webinar or mailing list, or maybe they receive an extra product for free.
- Seek out influencers and offer them a product for free on the condition that they write an honest review about it. This can be risky – there’s a chance they’ll write a negative review. At the same time, it’s a risk that’s worth taking.
- Make reviewing your products easy. If you’re selling through a service like Amazon, you’re already covered there – but if you’ve got your own storefront, offering people who’ve purchased from you the opportunity to review a product directly on its page is a good policy.
- Respond to negative reviews – reach out and see what you can do to assuage the buyer’s concerns. You might be surprised how many dissatisfied reviewers you can turn into loyal customers with a few kind words and a bit of support.
So, to recap, buying fake reviews is bad. Not only is it lazy and dishonest, it’s also dangerous – both because of the reputational damage should you get caught and the potential fines you might suffer under the FTC. If you’re really serious about seeing your business succeed, focus on marketing it honestly, and making it as high-quality as possible.
At the end of the day, that’ll get you further than anything else.