Online reviews have the power to define your brand. And increasingly consumers are using these reviews to aid in their decision-making process. According to Nielsen, recommendations from a friend or family member are the most trusted form of advertising (83%). However, trust in online reviews has risen to 66% and is now regarded with the same level of trust as editorial content in newspapers.
But is this fair? And is this trend likely to continue? In R&J’s recent webinar about Reputation Management, we noted that trust in these online reviews has slipped slightly (2%), since Nielsen last conducted their Trust in Advertising survey.
We observed that one reason for the decline is related to the practice of astroturfing. Named after the synthetic grass used in football stadiums, astroturfing is a practice where brands either pay for favorable reviews, or draft fake reviews of their own, presenting them as legitimate customer feedback.
And the problem seems to be getting worse. Forbes reports that while Amazon has taken steps to reduce the number of fake or paid reviews on its site, analysis done by ReviewMeta shows that in the summer of 2017, the number of fraudulent reviews on Amazon actually increased, significantly.
The cosmetics retailer Sephora recently got into trouble when leaked internal e-mails showed that the brand was encouraging its employees to create fake online accounts. And this summer, a beauty influence exposed the industry practice, not only paying for good reviews, but for bad reviews of competitors’ products as well.
Of all of these practices, from the perspective of consumer trust, paid influence is the least problematic. Studies have shown that millennials trust user-generated content created by influencers. Consumers under 30 are also less likely to care that content is paid for by a brand, provided the influencer is perceived as authentic.
So in this rapidly evolving landscape, what things should a brand be doing and what should it be avoiding, in managing its online reputation? Here are a few of the general guidelines that R&J recommends to our clients:
- Do not create fake reviews. This one may seem obvious, but as you can see brands continue to do it. But they also continue to get caught. And because millennials, now the largest segment of the market, value authenticity it is incredibly risky to expose your brand to this sort of behavior.
- Engage with reviewers. Have your customer service team respond to online reviews, clearly stating that they are a representative of your brand. When other consumers read online reviews, even the negative feedback, they will also see that you take customer satisfaction seriously and are actively working to keep your audience happy.
- Ask for feedback! At R&J we utilize a reputation management system that not only monitors online review sites, but also allows us to reach out to our clients’ existing customers, asking for their feedback. This is a great way to increase the number of legitimate reviews your brand receives. And this sort of proactive engagement can help to tip the balance from negative sentiment to a positive impression of your brand.
Despite the problem of fake and paid reviews, the increasing shift in retail sales from brick and mortar to eCommerce suggests that online reviews of your products and services are not going to disappear. And even with a slight decline in their trustworthiness, consumers rely on them when making their purchasing decisions. Surrounded by inauthentic content, the key to success is presenting your brand in an honest and transparent way, and fixing issues with customer satisfaction at their root.