Are You Savvy About Online Reviews?

In today’s modern world, one of the first things a consumer does when seeking a new product or service is read the online reviews in order to make certain that they are making the absolute best choice for their money. This process is even more important for what is considered “intangible services” because you don’t have any physical proof that you are getting what you really pay for. Marketing services such as those in the world of crowdfunding promotions are an example of an intangible service. As crowdfunding becomes a more common mode for fundraising, more and more people are seeking out the services of marketing and promotions agencies to help them spread the word about their campaign.

This new realm has led to a lot of new marketing agencies jumping on the crowdfunding bandwagon, making the choice even more daunting for the novice crowdfunder. To make matters worse, when they launch their campaigns these people are often inundated with agencies pitching for their business. How are they supposed to choose the best agency to help them with their campaign? Simple, they research the agency.

While this should be an easy task, there is one factor that makes it a difficult process. There are several extortion style review sites on the market today, so consumers may become swayed by fake or fraudulent reviews if they are not savvy enough to know how to find a real review. Many sites such as Ripoff Report, Pissed Consumer, Complaint Board, etc. allow anyone, including competitors, to post reviews using fake names. They have zero accountability for the poster, and will even approach the business offering to remove the review for thousands of dollars in fees. In fact, Ripoff Report once made headlines because they were paying writer Darren M. Meade to create fake reviews for the sole purpose of charging companies to then remove them.

Unfortunately, not all businesses can afford to pay the hefty fee, so the fake review unfairly damages their reputation. As can be seen by the numerous complaints found on the Consumer Affairs website, Ripoff Report and similar sites have wreaked havoc on the livelihood and lives of innocent people. In many cases, the damage is so severe it causes businesses to go bankrupt and lives are destroyed.

Many of the fake reviews are posted by a bitter ex, angry acquaintance or business rival. Unscrupulous business owners often try to destroy the competition by posting reviews on these sites. They resort to this method because they cannot compete on a real business level, so they opt for the fraudulent route instead and write scathing fake reviews in an attempt to destroy their competitor’s reputation.

So how can a consumer know whether or not to trust a review? It is simple. An honest and legitimate review will possess the following criteria:

1.       Real names are used. Legitimate reviews are NEVER posted anonymously. If a real customer or consumer has a complaint, they take it to the review site. They hope one of two things will happen: the company will make it right by fixing the problem, or they will save future consumers from the same problem.

2.       Contact info is available. Legitimate reviews have a way to get in touch with the poster. This not only provides validity to the review, but it prevents people from posting fake reviews because of accountability. Also, it allows consumers with a legitimate complaint to get in touch with similar complaint writers, the public can ask questions, or the business can get in touch to fix the problem.

3.       Supporting evidence is provided. A legitimate review has a way to verify the claims: an image, link, documentation, etc. In the case of online marketing it will include a link such as a crowdfunding campaign link, or documentation to prove the reviewer was in fact an actual customer.

4.       Valid Review Sites. The review is posted to legitimate review sites, that require the person to be “real”. This means they vet the review, and verify validity because it is attached to the persons personal or business email account. Sites such as Yelp, BBB, Angie’s List, Google, etc. do not allow fake review postings which makes them more trustworthy.

If a review is missing the above criteria, then there is a 99% chance that it is a fake review, or not an actual complaint. For this reason, it should not be trusted and should be dismissed as a fraudulent claim.

That being said, there are legitimate negative reviews that are posted about good companies too. A consumer must also know how to decipher the good from the bad even with real reviews. If a company has been in business for several years, but only has a handful of negative reviews, that is not necessarily a bad thing. They have most likely serviced hundreds of customers, and it is impossible to make everybody happy. Plus, there is the inevitable reality of consumers: they are more apt to post a review to vent or get a problem fixed, than to post a good review to praise a company. Think about it. How often do you go online to post a positive review about the customer service rep that went out of their way, a good service experience, a new product you are happy with, or the waitress that smiled all night? People are more inclined to post the bad than the good, so you must always take that into account when determining whether or not to trust a company with your business.  

Some customers are even skeptical about the testimonials on a website because they wonder if they actually came from the customer themselves. The best way to determine if a review is real is to keep in mind that most real reviews will contain links, or contact info because the company wants you to be able to contact their happy customers so you can hear the testimonial from the customer themselves. No reviews on the site? Simply ask the company for references that can be contacted.

Once you have done your informed due diligence, you can be pretty confident with the decisions you make.