In this day and age of social media and online reviews, the temptation to defend your brand – including your apartment community and management group – reputation by posting anonymous (and particularly self-serving) reviews has increased. Garnter, an independent research firm, estimates up to 15% of online reviews will be fake or paid for by 2014.
In fact, did you know that instead of actually writing these types of apartment reviews yourself, it is easy enough to hire a marketing or SEO firm to write these reviews and post on multiple review sites for you? Don’t want to be that obvious, not to fret; there are other ways to post those reviews – just ask your employees or seek out individuals on Craig’s List, FreeLancer.com, etc. In fact, I saw this recent advertisement recruiting online posters:
“We need a person that can post multiple positive reviews on major REVIEW sites. Example: Google Maps, Yelp, CitySearch. Must be from different IP addresses… So you must be able to have multiple IPs. The reviews will be only few sentences long. Need to have some understanding on how Yelp filters works. Previous experience is a plus…just apply — we are a marketing company.”
Consumer reviews have become a very powerful way to influence the conversation and, ultimately, impact the buying decision! In fact, as reported by BazaarVoice, consumers have 12x more trust in consumer recommendations than brand generated marketing messaging. 78% of consumers regularly or occasionally use online reviews to determine what local business to use. And then there is Gen Y – 84 million strong – growing up on technology. Half of Gen Y trust the opinions of strangers online over those of friends and family. When you think about it, these are some staggering statistics as it relates to business and the consumer’s buying decision.
Our prospects are relying more and more on apartment reviews as part of their decision-making process. So the thought of posting fake apartment reviews is very appealing! And why not? Who will know? What harm will it do? After all, a lot of the online posts are inaccurate anyway so why can’t we play the game the same way? If this is your mindset (and yes, let’s be honest, it has crossed your mind), you might want to think again.
Producing fake reviews violates several state laws. In fact, writing fake/bogus reviews (whether you do it yourself, ask someone to do it, or pay for it), is considered false advertising, illegal and a deceptive business practice. Just recently, New York State regulators announced they are enforcing the law and after a year-long investigation, they cited 19 companies for posting bogus reviews (Business Insider, 2013). Collectively, these companies were required to pay $350,000 in fines and cease posting these fake reviews.
In another recent case, Samsung was fined $340,000 by the Taiwan Fair Trade Commission (VatorNews, 2013). They were cited for not only posting false reviews on their own products but also for writing negative reviews of their competitors, highlighting product flaws.
In addition to these very recent examples, companies like Edmunds.com are taking a proactive approach, protecting themselves from this latest rage of fake reviews. Edmunds.com settled a lawsuit against their Texas marketing firm for creating 2,000+ fake accounts and posting 76 fake reviews on their website (Marketing Land, 2013). The CEO of Edmunds.com, Seth Berkowitz, felt their actions against the marketing firm were a win for Edmunds customers (car shoppers and dealers alike), stating the following:
“This is undoubtedly a victory not just for the millions of online users who rely on dealership reviews and ratings from fellow car shoppers, but also for the thousands of honest dealers who embrace authentic customer feedback. We will continue to hand screen every review submitted to our site, and we will not hesitate to push back against anyone who tries to compromise the terms of our user agreements.”
Who would have thought that online reviews could play such a factor in the consumer’s buying decision, companies would resort to cheating with fake reviews to protect their reputation, or that the problem would become so immense that the government would be prosecuting companies for these deceptive business practices.
Let’s assume your company would never knowingly participate in this type of behavior. But what if your property manager is desperate to defend the reputation of the apartment community and resorts to posting false apartment reviews? Knowingly or not, your company is at risk for deceptive business practice.
- Pay attention to the postings. Are apartment reviews being posted in “bulk”, around the same time or on the same day? Do the reviews have a tendency to slant toward only positive or only negative? What are the profiles of the reviewers?
- Watch out for the lingo of the review. Does the review have a marketing flair? Does it sound like an ad? Or does it contain industry jargon? Does the review contain language that we would use versus the terms a customer would use?
- Beware of exaggerated one-sided apartment reviews. What is being said? Is it believable? The best reviews are objective and provide constructive feedback, including the pros and cons.
- Assess actual review content. Is the review written in all CAPS? Does it have a lot of profanity? Exclamation points? What about the grammar and spelling? Apartment reviews that are poorly constructed do not lend credibility to anyone.
While all of these suggestions for recognizing a fake apartment review are obvious, the point comes down to taking the proper actions as a company to ensure the information that is being posted about your business is legit and not some marketing ploy to boast ratings and reviews that have been falsified. Apartment reviews and ratings sites like Renter’s Voice, and even Yelp and Google, have sophisticated technology in place to manage fraudulent reviews.
What are you doing as a company to prevent your company from being a victim of bogus apartment reviews?