Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Trusted Reviews?


Trusted Reviews?

To all the consumers out there I make my address, the current state of the union if you will. It is out of necessity that we unite as one in order to defend our rights and freedoms to legitimate and trusted reviews made available via the lovely interwebs.

Yelp, TripAdvisor, Amazon, Google Reviews, just to name a few of the bigger review sites, confirm that online reviews are here to stay and are growing incredibly quickly. It is the driving force of Internet commerce as consumers continue to rely heavily on reviews to make their buying decisions1. Given the alarming statistic of nearly 72% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations1, it is vital that we educate our selves on how to really know if the review is legitimate or not.

Why so critical? Reviews being at the backbone of Internet commerce it would be reasonable to assume that it would only be a matter of time before reviews them selves were being bought and sold in the Internet economy. With little ability to adequately know if a review is true or not and consumer reliance growing, it is no wonder that big companies began to leverage “real reviews” for profit. Yelp for instance is currently involved in a class action law suite for allegedly creating an “extortion scheme2” based on “consumer reviews”. A particular restaurant owner put it this way, "When you do get a call from Yelp, and you go to the site, it looks like they have been moved, you don't know if they happen to be at the top legitimately or if the rep moved them to the top. You don't even know if this is someone who legitimately doesn't like your restaurant. ... Almost all the time when they call you, the bad ones will be at the top.3"
This inability to really know if reviews are legitimate or not has even lead a team of researchers at Cornell to study4 review legitimacy. They have even been able to produce an algorithm to determine if a review is legitimate or not with 90% accuracy5.

Don’t fear, however. There are ways to determine if a review has been legitimately written. I have consolidated what I would consider the best ones below;
  • A lot of superlatives and not much description. Phrases like “a must-read” and “life-changing” are giveaways.
  • References to other people such as “my family” or “my husband.” Keep in mind, if the person writing the review is making it up, the story tends to stray farther away from the actual product.
  • More frequent use of the first-person singular. Fictitious assessments tend to include the words “me” and “I” more often, as if to make the review seem more credible.
  • Exclamation points and positive emotion. Truthful reviews use other kinds of punctuation, including the dollar sign.
  • People who have written only one review on the site
  • People who write only five-star reviews
  • Reviews that sound like a marketing brochure from the company or use the full official name of the product.
  • The username has more than 3 numbers at the end. Especially if several of the other reviews are left by users with more than 3 numbers at the end. Usually a sign of an automated program leaving reviews. 
  • One way to double check a fake review is to highlight a peculiar phrasing in the review and do a Google search for it. Funny, but the bigger the company or product the more they just place cookie-cutter reviews. You’ll see the phrase spring up all over the different review sites.

Probably one of may favorites…
  • Even if they’re not fakesters, anyone who writes in ALL CAPS is an idiot and should be ignored.

There are also many companies that are beginning to combat the legitimacy by only allowing vetted consumers leave reviews. Mindshare Technologies, a local Salt Lake City Company has taken many steps to do just that. Jon Grover, VP of Product Development at Mindshare said, “Mindshare requires the reviewer to eat at the restaurant and has advanced fraud tools to prevent multiple reviews from being posted by the same user. Mindshare works directly with the companies that are receiving the reviews to help the company act and improve on the feedback.6

1. http://searchengineland.com/study-72-of-consumers-trust-online-reviews-as-much-as-personal-recommendations-114152
2. http://techcrunch.com/2010/02/24/yelp-class-action-lawsuit/
4. http://www.cs.cornell.edu/~myleott/op_spamACL2011.pdf
5. http://beta.reviewskeptic.com/
6.   Email Interview conducted by Joel Diamond.

Note: Full Disclosure, Joel Diamond currently works for Mindshare Technologies, but is in no way profiting from any above opinion and the above statements, where not sourced, are strictly his opinions. He does note represent Mindshare Technologies in any official manner and wasn’t asked to specifically mention. There are a number of companies that require user reviews to have actually interacted with the company they are reviewing.