Star (rating) Wars: Battling for truth in the world of reviews

Joel Calafell

8 March 2018

180308 gr rebelthinking tv joel wp 1

A rise in the number of fake reviews being shared online is threatening to kill consumer confidence in brands. Instilling consumer confidence is not as easy as it once was; consumers don’t trust brands, and an increase in misleading reviews and endorsements only serve to reinforce that distrust. Keep in mind that while 85% of consumers have said that they trust online reviews just as much as personal recommendations, a worrying 84% are not always able to spot a fake review when they come across one, according to figures released by BrightLocal.

image 1 rta 180308

BrightLocal: Is it easy to spot if a review is fake? 2017

Consumers rely on review sites to help them make decisions or choose between two very similar products or service providers, and with both big brands and small local businesses engaging in the practices of planting fake reviews, employing AI algorithms to write good reviews on their behalf or attempting to prevent certain customers from posting reviews, the conscientious consumer is understandably becoming more savvy, more cynical, and less trusting when it comes to these reviews.

image 2 rta 180308

Review Meta: How dishonest or incentivated reviews are affecting general perception

The black market for fake reviews is a lucrative one and unfortunately for consumers, fake reviews come pretty cheap. Whether written by human or bot, they rarely cost more than $0.99 to produce. And it’s not just small businesses getting away with ruining the reputation of their competitors or faking positive reviews in order to drum up new business or drown out negative sentiment. Big businesses like Samsung have been fined in recent years for paying people to criticise their competitors online, and online review aggregators like TripAdvisor and Facebook are struggling to combat the problem, even on a small scale. So, what can be done about it?


Fighting back


In some countries, including Spain and the UK, it’s already illegal to run any paid promotion without clearly labelling it as such. Those that don’t comply risk a heavy fine, but has the penalisation really done anything to reduce the number of fake reviews published online?

While AI systems like Fake Spot have been designed to analyse and identify fake reviews, some AI programmes capable of generating fluent, believable fake reviews are being taken advantage of by brands. “It’s going to progress to greater attacks,” warns Ben Y. Zhao, a professor of Computer Science at the University of Chicago, “where entire articles written on a blog may be completely autonomously generated…I think it’s going to be a much bigger challenge for all of us in the years ahead.”

Online reviews have long been a pillar of corporate success, and in an era of social reviewing and open platforms like Google, Facebook or even Amazon, the line between online review sites and social networks is beginning to blur. Amazon has already taken it upon themselves to limit the number of fake reviews being generated by ensuring that all feedback is authenticated. Amazon launched Amazon Vine in 2007, an invite-only ‘trusted reviewers programme’ made up of a select number of ‘Vine Voices’ – members of the Amazon community chosen for the overall helpfulness and number of reviews they’ve written for the site. Vine Voices are sent free products based on their past behaviours and preferences, and in return they share a substantive, informative, detailed and objective” review of the product they’ve received. That said, at least one study conducted by Review Media concluded that Amazon’s fake review problem is worse than ever.

“We’re investing heavily in manual and automated systems to identify those who create the demand for fraudulent reviews,” one spokesperson for Amazon claimed. There are already plenty of new platforms on the market, like YotPo and Review Trackers, which are designed to help small to mid-sized businesses identify and reduce the number of fake reviewers. However, when we look at big brands like Amazon and Facebook, it’s clear that a simple ‘trusted reviewer’ programme is not enough. Big businesses should be investing more in strategies aimed at generating authentic, honest UGC and purging themselves of bots and fake reviews.


What can you do?


Identify ambassadors and advocates

People trust people. Too many brands are investing in advertising that is irrelevant and channeled through rented or acquired media. Instead, they should be leveraging the most powerful marketing tools at their disposal; loyal consumers and clients.

Most ambassador or advocacy programmes fail to answer that most vital question “what can your brand do for me?” before they launch, often resulting in disappointing results. At Good Rebels our ambassador strategies focus on helping brands build long-lasting relationships with their most valuable ambassadors and advocates. We work towards developing programmes that are both scalable and profitable. And this brings us to the next point.

Leverage existing UGC

There are potentially thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of people out there already talking about your brand. Detecting these conversations will help you identify new growth opportunities while at the same time, gain core insights into how you can be relevant to consumers.

According to Statista, 73% of consumers agree that UGC can improve consumer confidence and customer feedback. 60% believe that UGC is more interesting than content created by brands. No matter how innovative or creative your content, if you think you’re better off alone, you couldn’t be more wrong. In 2018, brands should be investing a significant portion of their budget in sourcing, leveraging and promoting UGC.

Empower coworkers

Whilst most companies invest in connecting with experts and industry influencers outside their organisation, the reality is that most of these roles could be fulfilled by existing talent. Why look elsewhere when you’ve already got the solution? Perhaps they aren’t as visible as you’d like them to be – but if you take the time to train and empower them, they’ll soon be acting as brand advocates at a level you might not have even thought possible, across a whole host of different platforms (and yes, that includes Dark Social). When it comes to digital advocacy, coworkers are a rarely leveraged asset, but they are far more valuable than you might imagine.

Re-align your values

This world is powered by people. Organisations need to adapt in order to survive in this new era of Human-Centered Organisations, a concept we wholeheartedly believe in. Ambassadors, consumers and employees: all of them are invaluable sources of honest feedback and suggestions for improvement. Ask them what you could be doing better, how you could improve your product range and what values they hold close.


Honest conversation between real individuals is a necessity for brands wishing to remain relevant, establish close bonds with their consumer base and gain back trust. Ethics aside, by focusing your attention on improving consumer offerings and ensuring that only reviews that are honest and relevant are being showcased, brands can ensure that consumer confidence is not being undermined.

As always, people are the answer.