According to recent research by Gartner, an estimated 10-15 percent of social media reviews by the year 2014 will be fake – bought and paid for by companies hoping to influence prospective customers and keep their online reputation squeaky clean.
In response to this alarming rise in bogus reviews, leading reviews site Yelp announced its Consumer Alerts initiative to root out companies attempting to game the system.The new review filter attempts to flush out phony paid-for reviews and penalizes the offending company with a warning banner for 90 days.
But what happens when a well-meaning brand gets caught up in the review filter? That’s where it gets a little messy.
Algorithms aren’t perfect and they can make mistakes. For a business, being misidentified as paying for bogus reviews can negatively impact your reputation and profitability. Positive “word of mouth” campaigns can get caught up in review filters and give the appearance of impropriety. So what’s a marketer to do?
1: Read the TOS of each review site carefully. Yes, those things that no one really reads and clicks through as quickly as possible. Understand the limits of what is and isn’t allowed. Err on the side of caution when offering any sort of compensation for positive reviews – and, yes, this means contests, too. A prominently displayed banner on your company’s Yelp page for ninety days can - and will – hurt.
2: Complete your business’s Yelp profile. Having a fully featured (and up-to-date!) profile give visitors a snapshot of your business. Categorize your listing appropriately and include a link directly to your company’s website. Populate your page with quality, hi-resolution images, too.
3: Don’t solicit reviews, but thank customers who participate. Use Yelp’s widgets and graphics to let your customers know you have a presence there. There is a real difference between actively pursuing reviews, and simply creating awareness of your business through social media outposts. Genuine positive reviews certainly add a tremendous amount of social proof for your business. You can leverage them by featuring them on your website (perhaps on a “What Others Are Saying” page) and on social media.
4: Don’t try to game the system. Unlike other local ratings and reviews sites, Yelp’s system filters reviews based on factors like previous site participation. Filtered reviews are still available for viewing, but they don’t appear on the main reviews page, and the corresponding ratings are not included in the overall calculation.
5: Monitor, listen, and turn negative into positive. Use any negative reviews as an opportunity to demonstrate your company’s responsiveness. It’s a great way to build loyalty and reputation organically. Responding directly and publicly to negative reviews shows that you care about customers’ experience and value their feedback. If you do respond to a Yelp review on their site, do so with a cool head. Responding defensively rarely plays out in your favor.
6. Focus on customer care. Work towards creating memorable experiences with your brand and products. The true power of word of mouth is that people trust recommendations when they occur as part of an organic process. Provide everyone with an exceptional customer experience and the reviews will take care of themselves.