Online reviews are big business — they influence £23bn of consumer spending a year in the UK — so it’s no surprise that people game the system.
Investigations by the BBC and Sunday Times recently have only confirmed what most people knew already: be suspicious, and if something looks fake, it probably is.
Three quarters of UK adults use online review websites and almost half believe they’ve seen fake reviews (Chartered Institute of Marketing).
Most platforms have been hacked, including Trip Advisor, Google Reviews and Trust Pilot, where a BBC reporter was able to buy five-star reviews via eBay. A well known ruse by Amazon traders was to send you an item for free in return for a five star review.
Celebrities all the way up to the US president have been accused of buying fake Twitter followers. Even Facebook itself appears to have fiddled its audience numbers; when compared to official census data in the UK, US and Australia it’s numbers for distinct age groups have been millions out — but conveniently never under the real number.
Even with all this going on, online reviews are becoming even more mainstream and more important for consumers and businesses. Transparency and authenticity are the watchwords of the service industries, and so opting out of online reviews isn’t really an option.
You’ll just have to trust that review platforms will keep evolving to mitigate the hackers — and they near always do. For instance, Amazon fake reviews were countered with verified purchase reviews, so users could assess the trustworthiness of each individual review. The levels of verification are likely to keep evolving.
It’s important to engage with the review process, understand it and have a handle on the system, and then get more online reviews. To that end, have you thought about putting a system in place to encourage your patients to leave a review after their visit? This could be done with an automated email or face to face by your receptionist offering them a clinipad. Explain it’s in the interests of making your service better — you really want to hear about any negative experiences they may have had so that you can improve.
And if you’re worried about putting yourself at the mercy of customers who have an axe to grind, we can monitor for negative sentiment about your business all over the internet. That includes being able to identify fake negative reviews where a patient has never attended your practice, so that you can justifiably challenge trolls, devious local competitors, or disgruntled patients who don’t want to leave their name. Transparency and authenticity work both ways.