When you’re checking out a new business, your first stop should always be Better Business Bureau. But, no smart consumer relies on one source alone.
Online customer reviews can be an invaluable source for information about the overall customer experience and product quality before you buy. The problem is that many businesses know very well how influential these reviews can be and have resorted to unscrupulous tactics to boost their online reputation.
Some have offered discounts or free products to actual customers in exchange for a positive review online, while others have paid professional writers to post reviews of a business they had never been to.
Researchers at Cornell University recognized how these tactics dilute the benefits of customer review sites and set out to discover how every day consumers could tell the difference between a real review and a fake. The results of that study were printed in the New York Times.
Here are a few red flags to watch for when reading online reviews, according to the Cornell study:
Too much first person. Fake reviewers asked to write about their experience at a hotel they had never visited leaned heavily on details about themselves and their companions and remained vague about the location itself. This resulted in overuse of first person pronouns and phrases like “my family” or “my husband.”
Naming precision. Someone posting a real review tends to use generic terms like “this razor,” but fake posters would say “the Gillette Quattro Max.”
Numerous verbs and adverbs. Real reviews tend to focus on the product, while fake reviewers tend to tell a story. This means the fake reviews ended up containing a lot of verbs that the real reviews lacked. And, since the fake reviewers were purposefully trying to be positive, those actions tended to be superlative. Instead of just being fun, the experience became really fun.
Exclamation points! Fake reviewers get very excited about the product! At least, that’s the impression they give off with the number of exclamation points they tack on to the end of every sentence.