Google My Business, Trusted Shops, Amazon, Kununu or GoLocal – the list of rating platforms on the Internet is long and could probably go on forever. Online reviews and ratings are now indispensable and have become powerful digital reputation drivers – in many different areas. The right way to deal with negative reviews therefore needs to be mastered. But what happens when negative comments accumulate and tell of purchases or service experiences that never took place? In most cases, these are fake reviews. Fake reviews are now a widespread method of deliberately maligning companies, causing reputational damage and collapsing sales. In this article, we explain what fake reviews are, how to recognize them, and how best to deal with them.
Reviews of your company, its products or services influence your reputation and, in turn, your economic performance. After all, your reputation can account for more than a third of your sales. While this is nothing new, the importance of reviews and ratings has increased enormously with the Internet. Back in the day, people relied primarily on the experiences of friends and family, but the Internet has expanded this group of people many times over.
With just a few clicks, we gain access to an almost limitless pool of different opinions on nearly any company or business. And although hardly any of us know the other reviewers, we trust them, believe the experiences they present, and let them influence our decisions to a great extent. Who hasn’t experienced this: only three stars on Google? I think I’d rather look for another hairdresser. Two comments on the poor battery life of a new cell phone? I’d rather look at another manufacturer.
In addition to product and service ratings, reviews and ratings are also becoming increasingly relevant on the job market. Providers like Kununu, for example, give applicants or (former) employees a platform to publicly rate a company or business as an employer. If you want to attract qualified specialists to your own company, you better do well here. This is important because a lack of skilled workers also negatively affects a company’s sales strength, innovative power and general performance in the long term.
So ratings and reviews directly influence your reputation in the digital age. This is made clear by a few figures. For example, 82 percent of customers regularly read online reviews of stores and products, 52 percent “always” read reviews before using a service, and a full 78 percent rely significantly on online reviews when making a purchasing decision. Reading reviews is also a widespread practice in the job market. Around 40 percent of German employees check out a potential employer on relevant review platforms before applying. If there are negative reviews, this deters young professionals in particular: almost half of 18- to 29-year-olds would refrain from applying because of bad reviews.
The figures cited not only illustrate the relevance of reviews and ratings. They also show how great our trust in online reviews is. Yet these very same reviews can be faked quickly and easily today. In most cases, all it takes is an account on the relevant rating platform. This usually requires no more than an e-mail address – and we don’t need to explain here how easy it is to create a new e-mail account. And so the number of fake reviews has also increased in recent years.
According to a study, almost 40 percent of all reviews can be estimated as probably fake. More than 90 percent of 18 – 34-year-olds believe they have read at least one fake review in 2019. Fakes are particularly proliferating in the electronics industry – on Amazon, more than 60 percent of all reviews in this sector are fake, according to a study. The many fake reviews are often hard to spot and influence our buying decisions. In fact, research by the UK CMA suggests that £23 billion of consumer spending in the UK is influenced by fake reviews each year.
Attackers can be of very different natures and also have different goals. Sometimes it is an overly dissatisfied customer or ex-employee who wants to harm the company. Another time, a competitor on the market tries to gain a head start on the competition by this unfair means. In order not to get their own hands dirty, other users are simply hired to write the reviews. Either via an agency that offers such dirty tricks or simply via social networks. On Facebook, for example, there are countless groups with users who are willing to create fake reviews and sell their services. According to a recent research, around 55,000 fake reviews and ratings are created every day on Facebook alone.
In order to take action against fake reviews, you first have to recognize them. In case of doubt, this can, however, be difficult. Often, reviews are about personal experiences with a product – it is difficult to verify whether these took place as they did. What can be verified with some companies, however, is whether a particular person actually made a purchase. If this is not the case, this is the first starting point for a fake review.
Furthermore, the reviewer and his or her account with the respective platform can also provide further clues. Does the user use a real name or a synonym? How many reviews does the user submit on average? Is there a pattern to the reviews? Finally, the review itself also provides information about whether it is possibly fake. For example, fake reviews contain exaggerated wording or bold advertising for another company or product.
These factors provide clues as to the authenticity of a review – even in the case of extremely positive reviews, by the way. Nevertheless, it is becoming increasingly difficult to detect fakes, because attackers are constantly improving their approach to make the comments appear more authentic. For example, spelling mistakes are deliberately included to increase credibility.
Merely identifying fake reviews is not enough. If you are inundated with a mass of fake reviews, you also need to react quickly and adequately at best. This is how you can avoid long-term damage to your reputation. We recommend that you follow five simple approaches.
To be able to deal with the wrong reviews, you first have to find them. Monitoring can help with this. Here you can either use professional monitoring application or simply set up alerts – e.g. for negative ratings – via the platforms you use. Which approach is the right one here depends, among other things, also on the size of your company and the number of daily ratings.
Incorrect reviews and ratings can be reported to most platforms. Providers such as Google My Business will then review the content and delete it if they believe it is fake reviews. If one can prove that the reviews are false and also that a competitor is behind them, for example, legal action can also be taken.
If fake online reviews cannot be deleted, you should react to them. This way, you can defend your reputation in an emergency and leave a positive image with real customers. This is because customers usually also look at responses to negative reviews. However, special caution is required in the case of fake reviews: First, make it comprehensibly clear why it is a fake review in the individual case – for example, you cannot verify the user as a buyer in your database? Explain this in your reply. Stay friendly and offer the user to find a solution. In doing so, you can also implicitly question the authenticity of the review (“If you really bought our product and are not satisfied, we would like to investigate your criticisms further…”).
If you receive a lot of fake reviews at once and can prove that these are spam and fake reviews, you can also share these findings with your community. Your social media channels are particularly suitable for this. A short statement about this is enough to let your customers know that these are Fake Reviews and that you are investigating the incident further.
In addition to replying, you can also suppress the comments with positive reviews. To do this, you should actively ask satisfied customers for a review. This can be done quite easily by mail, for example. Incentives such as discounts on the next purchase can serve as additional incentives here.
Of course, fakes don’t always have to be negative. Some companies also pursue the tactic of presenting themselves better through fake positive reviews. Although this approach seems tempting, we strongly advise against it. If the fake is discovered, the damage can be massive. Your credibility and reputation will be damaged and, in the worst case, customers will no longer want to buy from you. In any case, more than half of consumers say that they would no longer buy a product if they had found a fake (positive) review. Exclusively positive reviews are also a deterrent: one third of customers say they then assume that the positive reviews must be fake.
Fake reviews and ratings are enormous digital reputation risks for companies, and they are on the rise. To comprehensively protect against this danger, professional reputation risk management makes sense. This not only helps to identify existing and potential risks such as fake reviews, but also to prepare for the emergency of a reputation attack.
You are interested in reputation risk management? We are happy to help!
 Biesalski & Company 2018
 BrightLocal 2019; TomorrowFocusMedia 2014
 Von Rundstedt 2018
 BrightLocal 2019
 Washington Post
 CMA 2015
 The Guardian 2019
 Anderson & Simester 2014
 Invesp 2020