In the age of data mining, user tracking and behavioral retargeting, there is one area that still empowers the consumer: online reviews. Study after study has shown that if you want to sell anything on the web you better have some (good) reviews. The reason is simple: online reviews are about trust and we trust other consumers more than a company’s marketing department.
With everybody trying to secure positive testimonials, it is no surprise that boundaries are pushed and grey areas exploited. Some analysts predict that by 2014, ten to 15% of all social media reviews will be fake. Anecdotal evidence certainly suggests that something is rotten in the state of online endorsement. After a year-long undercover investigation, New York Attorney General Erik Schneiderman just announced a $350,000 settlement with 19 companies for writing fake reviews and using other “deceptive business practices”. Yelp apparently filters out 25% of reviews because it thinks they are fraudulent (others suspect more sinister motivations). Overall, litigation around fake reviews is rising with companies, competitors and consumer watchdog’s all waking up to the issue.
So who is writing all these fake reviews and what are their motivations? Is it just rogue online marketers looking for quick results? Take a look at this graphic for a rough typology of fake reviewers. It turns out, not everybody is in it for the money.