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What if my competitor is fabricating bad reviews?

I made my annual visit to the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business yesterday and presented my talk, “Web Marketing is Marketing” (if you are interested in the slides). But, as usual, my favorite part was the questions from the students. I got one yesterday that I have gotten many times before, but that I haven’t ever answered on this blog, “What if my competitor is fabricating bad reviews?”

Image representing Yelp as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase


What, indeed? It seems like a difficult question. I mean, sure we understand that we want to listen to social media and help customers who have had a problem. [Full disclosure: I serve as Chief Strategist a Converseon, a social media listening company.] But what if one of my competitors is posting those bad reviews of my prized product?
The truth is that you have no way to know. A clever competitor can post a bad review that looks perfectly legitimate: it’s a reputable message board, but it is a very negative review. So what you should do is to answer every comment as though it is legitimate. Most are, but what if some are faked?
The interesting thing about a fabricated review is that by engaging with the reviewer, you will smoke out the faker. Think about it. Suppose you get a review complaining about an awful experience. You see the post, you answer it, and you offer the reviewer a refund or a discount on their next purchase, or any number of compensations for what went wrong.
The average person in this situation would be grateful and pocket what you’ve offered. If that is what happens, then you are done. But if the poster was really your competitor, everything is different. The complainer might sneak off behind the scenes, never to be heard from again, or he might continue to complain, with no offer you make ever being satisfactory. And then, a remarkable thing generally happens. The complainer is told to shut up by other participants on the message board. They aren’t interested in someone who complains all the time, even when the company is going out of their way to do the right thing. Count on most people being fair and reasonable, and things will work out for you.
How about you? Has anyone ever fabricated a negative review about your business? What did you do?

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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