A new study released by research firm Gartner says 10 - 15 % of online reviews will be fake and paid for by companies by 2014. The rise in fake reviews shows a definite lack of integrity in the business community and will leave consumers unsure of how to trust 100% of these testimonials. But reviews are still important, as show in a UC Berkeley study that showed even a half-star improvement on a site like Yelp could increase restaurant reservations. No one knows the future of online review sites for sure, but here's how to add authenticity to reviews you post online or website testimonials:
- Don't edit reviews. With the exception of spelling errors and blatant grammatical mistakes (e.g. any of our commonly confused words), it's best to keep reviews as they come to you. The more you edit reviews, the more they'll all start to sound the same...and the more fake they'll sound, too.
- Attribute reviews to a real person. Who do you trust more - Sally123, or Sally Smith, CEO at ABC Company? When I'm reading website testimonials, I'm always drawn to the reviews with the most complete identifying information. Any review by an anonymous user is worth far less than one by a real, identified person.
- Post the good with the bad. No business gets everything right every time, although that's the goal of every legitimate organization. Sometimes, you'll get a bad review, especially on social media sites like Twitter. Deleting a comment or post is much more detrimental to a brand than responding appropriately. So, if you see a negative review, respond appropriately, make amends, and don't delete it.
- Use multimedia. If you're posting reviews on your website, use whatever multimedia you can. A logo or picture can identify a review from a particular brand or person. A picture of them with your product or team is even better. If you can get them to record an audio testimonial for your website, their written review will be accompanied by their real voice, adding even more authenticity. Better still, a video testimonial combines audio and visual elements for a truly authentic review.
- Rethink what a "testimonial" is. Typical website testimonials talk about how great a company is, but seldom explain the true value of a product or service. For more detail, consider replacing testimonials with case studies that explain, in-depth, how your product or service has helped a business or individual. If case studies aren't your thing, a blog post or newsletter article featuring the customer--who had such nice things to say about you, even without the publicity--might be in order. By creating more detailed content, you can tell a full story while including the testimonial in text, audio, or video.
For your online reviews, it's impossible to know what the future will bring, but you can take steps to add authenticity to your reviews now, before fake reviews become a major issue. By presenting reviews in pure, unedited forms with as much supporting evidence and multimedia as possible, you can present reviews that no one thinks are fake.