While brand managers and brand marketers don’t necessarily need to dress like Abraham Lincoln - although the stovepipe hat may come back in fashion at some point - they would be wise to adhere to one of his most famous sayings: “Honesty is the best policy.” (NOTE: I realize this saying has been attributed to Benjamin Franklin but I grew up believing it was Honest Abe so please don’t spoil it for me.)
The context I bring this up comes in the form of online reviews and the writing thereof and the honesty, or lack thereof, within.
Online reviews, in case you didn’t know, carry with them a lot of weight, influential weight I might add.
According to the Small Business Search Marketing Survey by American Express OPEN, U.S. small businesses can still count on word-of-mouth as a top way for shoppers to find them. Close behind, however, is the Internet. Local consumers now heavily rely on search engine power when shopping locally.
- While word of mouth remains the most popular form of review (82%), over two-thirds (66%) of consumers look to the Internet for research and reviews
- 85% of consumers used the Internet at least once in the past year to find a local businesss
- Over three-quarters (76%) of consumers say they either occasionally or regularly use online reviews to determine which business/brand to use
- Over half (58%) of consumers trust a business that has a positive review
I Get By With A Little Yelp From My Friends
With more than 30 million (and growing) online reviews, Yelp is one of the more popular review sites. So one would imagine any business or brand would love to have positive reviews of their company on Yelp.
Ah, but it’s not that easy, grasshopper. Alas, there are some unscrupulous people in the world who try to circumvent the rules and create fictitious positive reviews with the intent of impressing the masses.
So Yelp did its best Redford & Newman impression and ran a sting to try and catch the alleged perpetrators.
From a recent New York Times article:
“A pest control company offered $5 to anyone who would post a review that the business itself had written. The moving company was willing to pay $50 but wanted original copy. An appliance repair shop provided a start: “I really appreciate that the service tech was on time, the problem was solved, everything was cleaned up and he was very professional. Please add 50 or more words,” the shop suggested. It would pay $30.
The highest payment was offered by a jewelry store in San Diego, which said it was forced to solicit reviews after others got away with doing it. “We have noticed that some of our larger, corporate run competitors have been unfairly trying to get reviews written for them on Yelp, which puts us at a disadvantage,” wrote Bert Levi of Levi Family Jewelers. He said he would pay $200 for a review of a new custom-designed ring.”
Here is the actual letter the Levi Family Jewelers dispatched to wannabe reviewers:
As a result of being ensnared in the sting, the following warning now appears on the Levi Family Jewelers review page and will remain for the next three months:
You’ll notice the word “here” in blue in the last sentence, that is a link to the aforementioned letter Bert Levi sent out to prospective reviewers. In other words, Yelp is not playing around kids. They are dead serious and they will shame any and all brands in a public square (aka the Internet) as a punishment for trying to “game the system” as Eric Singley, Yelp’s vice president for consumer products and mobile puts it.
Singley also said that the group of businesses being outed now “is just a sample” of businesses that are soliciting reviews. In other words, this is the proverbial tip of a huge iceberg.
A Diabolical Twist
Myle Ott, a doctoral candidate in computer science at Cornell who has researched the rates of deception across various review communities, including Yelp, told the New York Times that public notices were a warning that businesses might well heed.
“My intuition is that public shaming would increase the risk and therefore the cost of posting fake reviews, which could reduce the prevalence,” he said.
But he also had what he called a ‘more sinister’ thought:
“What’s to stop someone from going and soliciting fake positive reviews for a competitor’s restaurant, in order for them to be publicly shamed?”
Wow. Now that would be diabolical to the nth degree to knowingly take the time to seek out fake positive reviews of a competitor’s business then turn around and report them to Yelp or whatever review site in question. all for the sake of publicly humiliating them?
Yeah, that would be evil with a capital E.