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Don’t be afraid of fake reviews

Last week, I talked about how you really do know what to say in social media. I got lots of nice feedback on that post, but I know that some of you are still skeptical. I know that some of you still believe that old PR maxim to never dignify a scurrilous story with a response. Or that some criticisms are “one-day stories,” and answering them just “gives them legs.” And some of you are especially adamant about this when it comes to reviews of your business or your products that you just KNOW are fake. And, I am here to tell you that you are wrong.

Let’s say that you have the power to even determine which reviews are fake and which ones are real. (More on that magical power later.) And you spot a scathing review that you are convinced was placed there by your arch rival. I know this might be hard to swallow, but the right thing to do in that situation is to answer it, not ignore it. (I know that not all reviews can be answered, but answer the ones that you can, especially in blog posts and message boards).

I can hear some of you objecting that no matter what you answer, your competitor will never be satisfied, so what’s the point? The point is that if you constantly treat every review as legitimate and you painstakingly try to help each customer, you’ll reap several big benefits:

  • You’ll help your real customers all the time
  • You’ll show anyone reading the exchange that you are a good company
  • The rest of the readers of the exchange will tell your competitor to shut up

It’s the last one that is the most fun. If it really is your rival company trying to sabotage your reviews, then by being kind and helpful, they will have no place to go. They will keep complaining no matter what you offer them to help and eventually everyone else will write them off as lunatics–which is very good for you. It also works if it isn’t your competitor but is a real-life lunatic customer. Because you can’t tell the difference, even if you think you can.

Cornell University conducted a study that proved that few of us can really tell a genuine review from a fake review. So, even though we think we know, most of us are either too trusting or too suspicious.

But if you follow my advice, you no longer care which ones are real and which ones are ginned-up. You treat them all as real and it just works anyway.

And here is the great news about the Cornell study. We have the hope that software can actually tell the difference between real and fake reviews, because there are patterns of language that people use when they are deceptive. So, someday, Yelp might use that kind of software to remove suspicious reviews so you won’t need to worry about them at all.

Just as accounting audit software can detect cooked books (far fewer than 20% of the entries end in a zero or a five, as they would if they were truly random), there are patterns that people use when they are being deceptive that are very hard to overcome.

So, stop worrying about fake reviews, and start worrying about bad reviews. Take action and protect your brand and let everyone else sort out what’s real.

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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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