Consumers researching businesses, products and services may find more than just reliable reviews on the Web; recent research by Cornell University indicates that some feedback is planted. Prior to purchasing, don't be persuaded by phony praise.
"Review sites, blogs and forums are important in the research process; people want to know what other customers are saying. But keep in mind that not all feedback is genuine and not all authors are who they claim to be," says Robert W.G. Andrew, CEO of Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington.
When searching for real reviews, testimonials and posts, consider the following:
Who? Ideally, reviews will come from actual customers. However, some companies hire writers to place positive reviews on themselves; while others employ staff to post negative, damaging comments on competitors.
Search reviewers' names online. See what other companies they are writing about; if it is limited to one industry only, it is possible that responses are rigged.
Be suspicious if customers' names resemble company officials or brands. In some cases, authors can be verifiably tied to companies they are complimenting. The FTC's Endorsement and Testimonial Guide requires transparency and disclosure.
Be doubtful of overly complex or simple screen names - such as "johnsmith123."
What? Take a good look at wording and tone. If it is filled with marketing messages, scripted taglines or product plugs, it is most likely from company representatives.
Don't trust overly subjective compliments and puffery - such as "life-changing."
Beware of false allegations, insults and disparaging attacks from competitors.
Look out for identical phrases or similar verbiage from different users. Cut and paste suspicious sentences into search engines to see what is on other sites.
When? If similar messages and posts were placed around the same month, week or day - allegedly by different reviewers - it is likely a "paid" effort.
Where? Beware if all comments are limited to companies' blogs or testimonial pages. Don’t just read reviews from one site; consider numerous sources and always check BBB Business Reviews on bbb.org.
Business leaders know that consumers rely on online reviews so it may be tempting to mimic favorable feedback. Read "customer" comments with skepticism.