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Why Are Fake Reviews Thriving, and What Is Their Impact?

The eCommerce market grew exponentially during the Covid era, as people stayed home and spent liberally. Yet there remains a pervasive sense of distrust when it comes to online transactions, meaning eCommerce businesses are having to rely less on customer reviews for social proof. Fake reviews lead to misjudged buying decisions. In turn, leveraging your online reviews can actually negatively impact your brand, because most customers can’t confidently spot fakes.

None of this is to say that customer reviews don’t have their place in 2023—they still most certainly do, as I see time and again with clients at my performance marketing agency, Pixated. Rather, you just need to be savvy with when and how you promote them—and exercise smart damage control if you inadvertently use fake reviews and get caught out.

How Do You Actually Define a Fake Review?

A fake review is one written with the intent to deceive. Most of the time they’re created by individuals who have never used the product or service, and perhaps have never even interacted with the company. Sometimes fake reviews do come from real customers, but their feedback is entirely at odds with their actual experience.

Far more businesses than you might imagine enlisting the services of review generation bots—and in fact, entire companies exist solely to provide fake reviews. Elsewhere, some businesses offer customers rewards for fake reviews, and others leave brutal feedback excoriating a competitor pretending to be a highly dissatisfied customer.

What Kind of Damage Can Fake Reviews Cause?

As marketers, sometimes it’s worth stepping outside our bubble and remembering that few customers spend their days thinking about the online realm like we do. So while to us it may seem obvious that online reviews should often be taken with a pinch of salt, that belies the fact that 91% of people still trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.

Of course, businesses with less-than-honourable intentions are fully aware of the public’s trust in online reviews—and the nefarious actions of a minority sadly affect us all. And as customers are exposed more often and more egregiously to fake reviews, they become desensitised to the original purpose of that online review function, and lose at least some trust in all brands, no matter how genuinely reputable.

82% of customers would avoid a brand altogether if it broke their trust, and despite most still having faith in online reviews, your average user is now more vigilant than ever, and won’t hesitate to report fake reviews. Hundreds of websites exist to educate shoppers on how to spot a fake review, and lots of big brands have been busted abusing the system. Take skincare brand Sunday Riley, lambasted for asking employees to leave fake positive reviews on Sephora, and Aukey, removed from Amazon after it emerged that the accessory manufacturer had been paying customers for positive reviews.

The allure of fake reviews and their promise of boosting sales has enticed many otherwise clean and honest business owners. But in doing so you risk seriously diminishing your brand’s reputation and credibility, sometimes irreparably. Ironically, this bad press also takes an axe to your sales figures—the exact opposite effect from what you’d hoped for. It requires smart and sincere reputation management to put things right.

How Can You Recover from a Fake Review Reputation Crisis?

Assess the Damage

It all begins with an online reputation audit. Just how severe is the damage from these fake online reviews? Have you received backlash? If so, how public and far-reaching? Which of your channels has been affected?

Ideate an Online Reputation Repair Strategy

While it’s possible to report fake reviews on your profile—be they negative or indeed positive—ultimately you have no control over what others are saying about your brand. You need to use the insights garnered from your online reputation audit to understand how to fix the situation. Reporting fake reviews on your profile is a good start, but if the damage has been severe then you may need to call a PR firm, or even invest in professional reputation repair services.

Offer a Sincere Apology

If you’ve been using fake reviews deliberately, sometimes the best reputation repair is to simply take responsibility and say sorry. It’s not easy, but it’s a lot better than getting defensive over the indefensible. We’ve all made mistakes in our time, and a lot more of your customers than you might think will respect the humility and honesty it takes to publicly own up, especially if you do so in a way that shows genuine regret.

Defend Your Brand’s Reputation

Of course, you may be innocent of any wrongdoing and the victim of a smear campaign from a competitor or angry customer. Be mindful of staying civil and professional at all times when refuting harmful and erroneous claims about your company—but stand your ground.

Customer Trust Must Always Be of the Utmost Importance

Online reviews are a double-edged sword. They’re a fabulous tool for showing off your brand in a quick and accessible manner to prospective customers—but for that reason, they’re also susceptible to abuse, both from rivals and from previous customers who disliked your product or service.

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Unfortunately, engaging in any way with the online realm means your business may at one time or another be at risk of a fake reviews crisis. And even if that happens, sometimes it’s the case that you just have to draw a line, pick your battles, and not get embroiled in a case of he said–she said, especially when the damage of one fake review is lesser than the time and effort it’s going to take you to have it removed and the perpetrator dealt with.

As long as you stay squeaky-clean and manage your reputation smartly, you give your brand the best possible chance to benefit from all those authentic stellar reviews left by happy customers.

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