It’s no secret: reviews make people buy stuff. Research conducted by public relations and marketing agency Cone revealed 85% of people (an 8% increase on the previous year) said they were more likely to purchase products or services when they could find additional recommendations about them online. Likewise four-out-of-five consumers have changed their minds about a recommended purchase based solely on negative information they found online.

In the restaurant industry those findings become even more salient: a survey conducted by the Economic Journal, no less, with the rather imposing title “Learning from the Crowd: Regression Discontinuity Estimates of the Effects of an Online Review Database” had a simple message: reviews matter. So much in fact that an extra half-star rating caused a restaurant’s 7pm bookings to sell out on 49% of the evenings it was open for business, compared to the original 30%.

That trend is set to continue. With the internet becoming more and more accessible (just look at the zombies checking their smartphones in the street), checking opinions online is going to become the norm, if not a vital part of the decision-making process.

So if good reviews can only boost profits, what’s to stop you from faking them? Forget improving the product and providing good service, why don’t all businesses get their staff – and some freelancers – to spend their time writing fake reviews?

If good reviews can only boost profits, what's to stop you from faking them? - Highlight to share -

1. Fake reviews can destroy the loyalty between brand and customer

Orlando Figes is an eminent historian. That is, he was until recently. The academic, who has won a mantlepiece worth of trophies, was revealed to have started reviewing his own work on Amazon. He evidently thought he’d done quite a good job: “a fascinating book … [that] leaves the reader awed, humbled, yet uplifted. Figes visits their ordeals with enormous compassion, and he brings their history to life with his superb story-telling skills. I hope he writes for ever.” And he didn’t stop there…

Fellow British historians, Robert Service and Rachel Polonsky, noticed their own books had accrued some more tempered praise: a certain reviewer called them “hard to follow” and “awful”. It wasn’t hard to discover who’d taken such a violent dislike to these tomes on the Russian revolution. He’d used the aliases “orlando-birkbeck” and “Historian”. Figes had to pay legal costs and damages to Polonsky and Service. Birkbeck were said to be reconsidering his tenure. It’s a permanent smear on his Wikipedia page.

2. Fake reviews can get you into hot water with the law

In 2009 in the US, the Federal Trade Commission decided that paying for positive reviews without revealing that the reviewer had been compensated, was comparable to deceptive advertising and opened up offending companies to prosecution.

In 2013 Samsung were fined for astroturfing. No, that’s not a trendy new sport you play with frisbees and gum guards, but the practice of pretending a message came from grassroots participants rather than the organisation or business.

Apparently, Samsung had organised a “large number of hired writers and designated employees” to write positive reviews on forums. They got caught again in the same year. Given they were fined $340,000, that’s a hefty addition to their marketing budget.

In a sting a couple of years back, New York’s attorney general fabricated a yoghurt shop in Brooklyn to trap fake online review companies. 19 firms implicated in the sting operation were fined $350,000. It’s good to see NYPD are after the real crooks. Where are those guys that escaped from prison?

3. Fake reviews can get you censored

Some reviews have started disappearing mysteriously. On Google+ Local, the search giant hasn’t explained why precisely reviews are vanishing. But its press release saying that “these measures help everyone by ensuring that the reviews appearing on Google+ Local are authentic, relevant, and useful,” suggested that quite a few were not so authentic, relevant or useful. And Google didn’t like them.

In an effort to combat biased reviews, Yelp has stopped business from soliciting customers:

“we actually discourage business owners from asking their customers to write reviews”.

If you’re being a little too enthusiastic while shaping customer feedback and pushing customers for positive reviews, your reviews risk the blacklist. A third party adjudicator might be the answer.

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Why fake reviews aren't good for business