by Stuart Fuller (CentralNic)
In a recent BBC 5 Live report, the problem of fake online reviews was investigated and the potential damage it could cause for brand holders. This is not a new issue – it was reported two years ago by the Sunday Times that an undercover investigator was able to buy fake reviews for websites such as Amazon and TripAdvisor from Fiverr.com.
The BBC investigation saw them buy a false, five-star recommendation placed on one of the world's leading review websites, TrustPilot. It also uncovered online forums where Amazon shoppers are offered full refunds in exchange for product reviews.
For brand holders this means that they may be on the receiving-end of a deliberately constructed campaign of negative reviews, bought potentially by competing brands. On the flip-side, competitors could falsely and artificially inflate their own position on certain market-place websites.
The issue not only casts a shadow over the usefulness or trustworthiness of the content on review websites though, it goes much deeper than that. Some of the same websites that offer these ‘fake’ reviews also offer Social Media likes, followers and retweets. It can take a matter of minutes to create a new brand online, with an impressive website, listing plenty of (fake) reviews and a social media footprint with thousands of (fake) followers. Unfortunately, that is enough for a significant number of consumers to believe they are dealing with a genuine brand and hand over personal and financial details.
The issue of fliking, or fake liking and reviewing, is a major concern for the social media networks, too. We are all familiar with the concept of Fake News now and unfortunately it is still far too easy for a brand to be a target of a concentrated campaign that is designed to cause them reputational damage.
Unfortunately, we are more likely to believe what a random stranger says online about a company, product or service through our social media interactions than what a colleague, friend or even a family member face-to-face says. The nature of our trust relationships has changed irrecoverably due to the digital world. In his study on the power of Social Media in his book Socianomics, Erik Qualmann stated that 93% of online shoppers choices are influenced by Social Media and 90% trust peer recommendations over traditional adverts.
If the information on which we base our spending decisions is false then we not only fuel the issue of cybercrime but can also damage the revenues and reputations of genuine brand holder. Whilst we may believe the saying, "If it's too good to be true, it probably is", in practice many consumers are lured to websites or online marketplaces by convincing reviews, positive social media interactions and attractive prices.
Many will believe that because a hotel or a restaurant has glowing 5-star reviews then it is a world-beater, or if a brand has a Facebook page with thousands of likes then there are no problems. Whilst legitimate brands will use social media or peer review sites such as TripAdvisor or in the case of the BBC investigation, TrustPilot, so too do the cyber criminals. They use exactly the same tactics as genuine brand marketers, building authentic looking websites, creating a social media presence and trying to divert real traffic to their websites.
Amazon took legal action against over 1,000 individuals who had been advertising their services to provide fake five-star reviews on the website Fiverr.com. This was in response to the article published in The Sunday Times on how easy it was to get a book up to the top of one of Amazon's best seller lists through buying fake reviews. TripAdvisor has also attempted to take action against organisations who either created positive reviews for themselves or negative ones for competing businesses.
Whilst some of the activity may be nothing more than vanity, creating a false world of positivity, to the consumer there is no clear definition between what's good and what's bad. Brand holders need to monitor the Internet to ensure miscreants aren't trying to create copy-cat Social Media identities and then using the goodwill and their reputation to mislead consumers. Even if a brand has no knowledge of what cyber-criminals are up to, consumers are more likely to shun a brand if they've been duped. For any organisation, protecting website traffic, brand reputation, revenues and ultimately customer's welfare are the core objectives of moving their business online.
So, what can a brand do to protect itself and its online customers? Using a Social Media Monitoring tool, such as that provided by BrandShelter is a vital part of any brand protection strategy today. This social media monitoring service provides clients with important insight into how their brand (and brand names) are being used on all relevant social media platforms. Monitoring existing and new social media networks, identifying brand violations in user names and profiles, focusing on legally actionable trademark infringement, not just brand-related comments is an important part of any brand protection strategy and one that BrandShelter can help you deliver.
One starting point for any brand is to understand the current challenges and potential infringements online today. The BrandShelter Portfolio Integrity Model provides a high-level overview of the risk landscape and what mitigating actions can be taken by a brand-holder today in terms of domain name management, social media and reputation management as well as more traditional brand protection measures. Taking a proactive view on potential intellectual property abuse is key for organisations, protecting their revenues, reputation and customers. The Portfolio Integrity Model provides the intelligence on IP abuse that is key to any brand holder in the ever-changing digital world.