How to spot fake online reviews

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Online customer reviews are gaining supreme level of importance for brands across several social media channels, blogs and peer-to-peer forums. Online booking companies like expedia.com, booking.com, kayak.com and a host of others, are now ranking hospitality and tourism related brands based on the number of positive reviews they garner.

Businesses are hitting the desperation button as they seek for ways to snake their way through the review system. Very recently, Yelp took up a lawsuit against a company that pays people to flood the platform with positive reviews. The company is known as Revleap, and considers itself as a generator of positive reviews for clients. On its official site, it has a tag that goes thus: “Help fight Yelp.” Now Yelp, like most online review platforms have certain drawbacks or shortcomings but incentivising people to leave positive reviews, is an interesting and highly controversial trend. Without much ado or maybe ‘much ado about nothing’ like Shakespeare uttered, let’s delve into the simple ways to identifying or spotting fake online reviews.

Ways to spotting fake online reviews

1) Validation of reviewer by platform: Some online channels like Amazon via its database, identify reviewers that bought a given product with a phrase that goes thus: “Amazon verified purchase.” This phrase is in deep orange colour that stands out and is very visible for all to see. The key thing is that it says “Amazon Verified…” as the ecommerce giant puts its name and reputation on line, to validate the review. Trustpilot, an online review platform also has a similar process with a phrase that goes thus: “review by confirmed purchaser.” A review without a validation has more tendency to be fake than real.

2) The tone of the review: John Falcone says that: “a real review is typically more moderate in its praise.” A fake review in most cases will have an exaggerated and hyped tone; it may be along the negative or positive lines.

3) The frequency of the reviews: A red flag starts flapping when a certain company or brand receives an unprecedented volume of reviews. Example, a company that receives an average of 5 reviews a week, suddenly receives an overwhelming amount of reviews, like 80-100 reviews a week. The second alarm bell that might go off could be having most of the reviews sway to mostly positive or negative. This shows something is not right and the brand may have raked in fake reviews.

4) An anonymous profile ID: Most review platforms do not allow for anonymous ID. These platforms prefer syndication with social media sites like Facebook, in a bid to identifying the reviewer. It is also believed that people tend to be more sincere and civil when their real identity is linked to a comment or review. Review platforms like Trustradius, allow for anonymous reviewers (who have been verified during registration). The rule of thumb is that, the more anonymous the reviewers the more likely they could be fake.

5) More focus on abstract entities than the actual product: In 2013, on the backdrop of a research, Cornell University came up with software that spots fake reviews. In its study, the university discovered that fake reviewers will talk more about how their family are happy with the hotel than writing about the specifics of the hotel, as they have likely not been to the hotel. It is akin to focusing on superlatives and not specifics.

6) The first and only review by the user: Yohana Desta, wrote on Mashable, that people that have only left one review, and have never been bothered to review anything else, in most cases could be a fake user.

7) Exact language on multiple reviews: Most users tend to change their language or sentence structure for different products and experiences. If the user uses the same language for all his/her reviews, then something may not be all together.

8) Abrupt and absurd one-liner: A weird one-word or one-liner review that seems to be out of context could be a good way for spotting a fake review. An example might be a review for Samsung TV with a review like: “not tasty.” This is the sought of review you would expect for a restaurant or coffee shop but not for a TV manufacturer.

9) Sounds like a marketing brochure: Christina Desmarais, believes when a review sounds more like a marketing brochure, with so much product details and jargons, there is a high chance it could be fake.

10) Excessive use of the first-person singular: Fake reviewers are believed to excessively use the words ‘I’ and ‘me’ more often, to fictitiously establish credibility.

There is no denial to the power of online customer reviews, with 90% of Yelp users stating that a positive review influenced their purchasing choice. On the flip side, a study carried out by the Harvard business school established that about 20% of Yelp reviews are fake. You now know some of the cues to spotting fake reviews, use them for an informed and a more intelligent decision.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Great article, Dateme! It’s especially important that fake reviews – posted to both B2C and B2B businesses – get detected.

    There are a number of ways of preventing spam reviewers. At G2 Crowd (disc: I’m an employee), we’ve seen firsthand that LinkedIn authentication tends to ward off people posting spam reviews, or reviews from company employees or competitors.

    Secondly, a QA team – if possible – should review every review that comes in. If the review is tied to a legitimate LinkedIn profile, it’s easy to see any potential conflicts that might occur.

    Finally, a company that’s listed – as well as reviewers – should be able to flag suspicious reviews that come in.

    If there are multiple steps to your process, you’ll be able to spot fake reviewers quicker and more effectively.

  2. Hi Daniel,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I absolutely agree that quality assurance is a very good way to tackling these fake reviews, In addition, using social media to validate the reviewers, will also help in reducing the incidence of fake reviews. I am a big fan of G2 crowd and its effort within the CRM space.

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