Fake or real? Consumers and marketing expert caution about believing online reviews

Tue, Feb 5: A Calgary consumer is warning about fake online reviews he believes may even be paid for. Global’s Tomasia DaSilva has some tips from a marketing expert about how to spot fake reviews.

A Calgary consumer is cautioning about believing online reviews after he came across some he thinks were fake and possibly even paid to be put there.

“The big thing I found was a lot of these reviews weren’t real,” Chris Thurber said.

Thurber started looking at reviews after moving to a new community in Calgary. He said when he went into certain businesses, he didn’t get the same 5-star service a number of people had raved about online.

He then started looking into other reviews, and said he came across other misleading reviews.

“One of the places I looked at had a bunch of reviews from different people in the U.K.  It kind of didn’t make sense to me because I don’t think you would travel 14 hours to come to Calgary for breakfast.”

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Donna Dumont is a marketing and social innovation expert with Calgary’s Mount Royal University.

She said she’s not sure if fake reviews are necessarily a growing problem, but added perhaps consumers are seeing them more because people are doing more research prior to buying something or frequenting a business.

She said fake reviews do not have much credibility for long, as consumers will comment on the reality of their experience and many businesses know that.

“Any reputable organizations would not be doing that (posting fake reviews),” Dumont said.

Dumont said there are some things you can look out for if you suspect a review is fake including if it’s too vague; if there are no comments or too many; and if those comments are slanted — one way or another.

“You’d probably see a trend there and see much more negative reviews versus the very small of percentage of positive if they’re paid.”

Dumont did say more people are more likely to post negative reviews than positive ones, and consumers looking at those reviews should do so with a critical eye.

“It may just be an individual who had an emotional response that may not be valid,” Dumont said. “It really comes down to the credibility of the source and looking at trends…not just one review.”

She also advised looking at more than one site and independent sites — something she said will become increasingly difficult as more and more consumers rely on voice activated searches that often only bring up limited results.

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Both Dumont and Thurber agreed customer reviews can have long-lasting effects on businesses with negative comments hurting a business’ reputation.

But Thurber also said fake positive ones can hurt competing businesses.

“One place down the street may have five or 10 really good reviews but you look at the other guy down the street and he has a thousand, and they’re in the same industry.”

Thurber called that an unfair advantage.

There are reviewers who are paid — they are called paid influencers and are usually celebrities. Dumont said this occurs when businesses target a user with influence in their target market to ideally provide a positive review.  She added this now legally has to be specifically identified, as the reviewer was paid to develop this review.

Thurber’s advice: when in doubt check the business out yourself or go with a tried-and-true word of mouth referral.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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