Most of us rely on online reviews to helps us make a variety of decisions that range from where to have dinner to which business software to buy. Reviews have influence on our decisions and businesses are aware of that, or at least starting to see the value of the crowdsourced reviews. It’s so commonplace in making simple daily decisions that the behavior has become automatic…you’re traveling somewhere check Tripadvisor, need a good book or some new music, check Amazon, a dinner reservation, Yelp or OpenTable, it’s habit. Over the last few posts I’ve talked about how reviews are now influencing larger decisions in both B2C and B2B. The more we trust the source and rely on reviews for decision support, especially as we include more large purchase decisions, the more influence the review sites have on us, and sadly, the more they become targets for dishonest behavior. If a review influences decisions then maybe a fake review would do the same? And of course that influence could be in a positive direction or a negative one.
Pretending to be someone you’re not online is a problem that touches lot’s of different activities. Catfishing, as it’s commonly called, is a very real problem. It’s unfortunate but when there’s a lot at stake, influencing your buying behavior, then the reviews are a natural target. The existence of catfished reviews, or even the potential that some reviews are fake can reduce the credibility of online reviews in general, can mislead you into making a bad purchase decisions, and can create unfair advantages for a company. That’s why it’s important to understand how a review site protects you against catfished reviews, and also for you to learn some of the warning signs.
The first question you should ask yourself when seeking out online reviews to support a decision is about the review site and its business practices. From a business perspective it’s essential that you choose a review site that is open and transparent about where the reviews come from, how they are vetted (the process, and it should be fairly detailed), and how the review site makes money (most are not charities or not for profit companies). From a process perspective the site should clearly lay out, in an open and transparent way what specifically they do to verify the review’s content and reviewer’s identity, how they identify that the process has been successfully executed, what is acceptable or unacceptable based on their review policy, and what they do if the review doesn’t meet the policy criteria. The site should use a combination of methods to establish review validity that can (should?) include risk management software and trained QA personnel. The review can have elements that inherently help with that credibility and give users clear indication that the review is credible and trustworthy based on that QA process. For the reviewer the site should use credible sources and methods to validate the reviewers identity, even if the site allows the reviewer to post the public view of the review anonymously. Social networks, particularly LinkedIn, used as a part of the signup process are one effective method for establishing identity.
As a user of a peer review site, there are a few things that you can look for that could alert you to issues with a review, beyond the examination of the site and it’s policies:
- The reviewers profile. Ask yourself, is the profile complete, does it fit with the product being reviewed (particularly role alignment in some products, would a person in that specific role use the type of product being reviewed), is there a financial connection with the company being reviewed (partner, relative, employee, etc.), or does it seem like the reviewer is hiding some relevant information by avoiding identity questions?
- Too perfect / too wrong. It would be a rare thing for a person to review a product and share that the product was perfect or that the product was 100% bad. The review should be relatively balanced in pros and cons, not that it won’t be obvious if the reviewer does or does not feel the product is good, but a total swing in either direction is a huge red flag.
- Written by a professional. Is the review so well written that it might have been done by a professional writer, journalists or analysts, and yet, the reviewer is not in one of those professions? Reviews are generally done quickly and tend to be short and to the point. There are wordy writers and so long isn’t itself an issue, but perfect prose in an online review is not common.
- Details. If a review is completely or mostly lacking in specific details about the product, the user experience and the reasons for a good or bad review rating, there may be something wrong. In the course of using a product, and then relating your experience it is natural to share specific details, something about the process of using the product, the way the experience makes you feel, or what happened when it was used. Vague reviews are of little value in general, and could signal that a person really doesn’t have personal knowledge of the product.
For a review to provide useful information and add value to the decision process it must be credible and the reviewer must appear trustworthy. If the review has one or more of the issues mentioned above, or if the review site isn’t open about how it establishes credibility (or I suppose also if the policy of the site owner makes you uncomfortable) then don’t accept the review. Don’t risk making a decision on bad data. Peer reviews are becoming much more important in the business buying decision process, and that will continue as long as you are a little careful and that you make sure the site and the reviews are trustworthy. A few simple questions can help you use the best data sources and make the best possible purchase.
(Cross-posted @ Michael Fauscette)