Reputation Management companies are becoming an industry of their own but $350,000 in fines to 19 firms in New York over fake reviews might deter 'astroturfing'
Definition of astroturfing
- Masking the identity of a persona or personas that can be used to represent a company or organization.
The word derives from astroturf, you know, fake grass. This of course all would relate to fake reviews and how companies will sell services to create them, paid reviews.
In New York an "Operation Clean Turf" had been ongoing with 19 reputation management companies targeted where they offered a service that basically boils down to fake reviews. They fix your reputation by either creating fake accounts to say positive things about your companies or they simply pay real people to do this.
The full article can be read here
In the United States this is a grey area of marketing where advertising of any form has to be announced and acknowledged. The Federal Trade Commission wants any forms of paid advertising to be acknowledged so as to not mislead the public.
The 19 companies were caught as an undercover agent posted as the store owner of a frozen yogurt shop and contacted 19 New York based Search Engine Optimization companies for help.
Taken from Attorney General's Eric T. Schneiderman's website:
"Posing as the owner of a yogurt shop in Brooklyn, representatives from Attorney General Schneiderman's office called the leading SEO companies in New York to request assistance in combating negative reviews on consumer-review websites. During these calls, representatives from some of these companies offered to write fake reviews of the yogurt shop and post them on consumer-review websites such as Yelp.com, Google Local and Citysearch.com, as part of their reputation management services
For online marketers, reviews are becoming more important to the success or failure of some businesses. For local businesses, this is something they can't avoid. Gone are yellow pages and having a basic directory with no recommendations to being able to read what other people have to save about that business. The great thing is that a company that offers a great value or service will naturally get good quality reviews. For everyone else that wants to cheat the system, this is something that will probably be a problem for many years to come.
For all the places you can get a review, they are not too difficult to get and easy to buy if you wanted to. Just go to fiverr.com
and type in 'review' or 'tripadvisor 'review' and look at all the options you have.
To complicate things even further think about these review companies that could also charge money to remove a negative review and change to a positive one. There are many accusations of this practice by the directory yelp.
See what negative reviews have done to Hotel Arts Barcelona? There is a wave of positive reviews that bury negative reviews exposing a possible theft case at the hotel.
What can businesses do about negative reviews?
Perhaps the easiest and also maybe the more difficult thing to do is offer such a good service and value that you won't get negative reviews. People can read between the lines if they see fake reviews and people like to compare the number of reviews a site has and if they really want to know they could also try to look up the trust level of that person as well. That is 5 positive reviews coming from people with only 1 review each doesn't seem to have a lot of weight.
If you have happy customers, ask them for feedback. Would it be bad to offer them an incentive to post something good? Perhaps this is where a company might get into legal trouble but just be neutral and offer a discount for a review or some mention or sharing on social media.
As for fake reviews, these can be dangerous for any company for many reason. I have worked with a few businesses that have had their reviews completely deleted and in some cases their profile removed as well including in Google reviews of one business. If you have earned anything positive in the past then you are risking losing that history and being forced to start over. Having a history of positive reviews will go a long way for staying in business and earning the trust of future customers.