Restoring Consumers Faith in Online Reviews

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We continue to be exposed daily to statistics surrounding the growth and inherent rise of consumer mobile usage. The latest being 1.5B of the world’s population (equivalent to 20%) own a mobile phone.

Mobile opens up new ways to engage and interact with consumers. A mobile device (phone, smartphone or tablet), offers unlimited access at one’s finger tips, as well as access to content, to research, to engage, to purchase and to make an informed decision about a brand or product/service. Businesses that provide valuable, relevant, qualitative, and most importantly authentic content, attract and retain new and existing customers.

Ensuring content integrity is fundamental – in fact only brands that leverage authentic content will be able to gain consumers’ trust, and turn customers into brand advocates. This is particularly relevant following the recent news of the Competition and Markets’ Agency’s (CMA) investigation into fake endorsement in blogs and online articles.

Since the crackdown on fake reviews, various companies are being investigated by the CMA, for undermining the vitality of sharing authentic content in the process of building consumer trust. A Bazaarvoice survey of 1,500 adult customers across the United Kingdom found 70 percent of respondents read reviews before making a purchase decision—more than any other content type considered. With the CMA estimating that £23bn a year of consumer spending is potentially influenced by online reviews, we start to see the scale of the problem and why there is concern around the use of the content.

Authentic consumer-generated content (CGC), in one form, online reviews, can yield endless benefits for brands and retailers – it has enormous potential to positively influence audience opinion and buying intent, increase brand advocacy, reduce return rate, and ultimately have a positive impact on an organisation’s bottom line. Most importantly, by opening up a dialogue with consumers, businesses can increase consumers’ trust in their brand and shape their organisation to reflect consumers’ desires and needs.

However, despite all the benefits of leveraging authentic consumer-generated content, some organisations choose to misuse certain types of consumer content, hence the CMA investigation into how consumers’ opinions are being used. Practices such as paying bloggers in return for endorsements, review sites leaving negative commentary unpublished, are apparently becoming increasingly common, as are other inauthentic practices such as ‘astroturfing’.

Astroturfing is when sites create fake grass root reviews, businesses writing fake reviews of themselves to boost their ratings in comparison to their rivals, and firms writing or commissioning fake negative reviews to undermine rivals for personal gain.

The consequences can not only be harmful, but long-lasting in loss of trust. Fifty percent (50%) of respondents to the Bazaarvoice survey also stated that they believed one or more of the reviews they read online to be fake, and 53 percent said they believed that companies removed negative reviews.

Participants in the survey also offered clear guidance to businesses who rely heavily on customer reviews. More than 80 percent stated that they would feel more trusting of reviews if they knew the reviews were screened for fraud, moderated, and displayed by a neutral, credible third party. A further 55 percent said they would feel more trusting if they knew reviews weren’t altered in any way by anyone other than the original author. Thirty-four percent (34%) of participants were also interested to know if reviewers had been offered an incentive to provide an unbiased review, more relevant in light of more blogs and online publications being questioned over its authenticity.

Since the CMA started their investigation, many review sites, including TripAdvisor and have defended their sites’ infrastructure and processes. Both of the which have recently informed users of the combination of random checks and confirmation emails they will use to eliminate unauthentic content.

To ensure brands restore consumer trust in the content they read, we recommend implementing an authenticity policy that is robust yet simple and clear, this will guide both company and consumer behaviour. The authenticity policy should ensure content is free from fraud, spam, editing, classification, and other forms of alteration.
Partnering up with an expert third party is the first step in the process of sending customers a clear message that the review content they see has been through the screening process of a neutral organisation, and that the integrity of client relationships is one of your business’s top priorities.

As consumers access to content continues to rise, and channels to absorb that content becomes easier to digest and interact with, businesses need to ensure they are protecting both their brand and products/or services through the process. Consumer generated content will continue to take various forms, however for now, getting reviews at the base level right is key, if other forms of content is to be trusted.

Thus with the rise of mobile usage, businesses need to start paying attention not only to the content they are sharing, but the medium they are sharing it. More and more consumers are accessing content on the go, and businesses need to adapt with not only authentic content, but mobile friendly authentic content.