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Are Trolls a Threat to Online Reviews?

21 October
Internet Trolls

#3 Victor by Tricia Arnold on Flickr Creative Commons 2.0

Online user reviews have become increasingly important in consumers’ purchasing decisions, giving what The Harvard Business Review characterizes as “a rich, specific sense of what it’s like to own or use the goods they’re considering” before buying. As a result, more and more “troll” companies have sprung up, offering help to companies that want to create fake positive product reviews or take down competitors with fake negative reviews. To fight the proliferation of false reviews, Amazon filed suit last week against users who posted false or misleading reviews on their site.

The stakes are high for Amazon, which has a lot invested in their review community. They promote reviews that contain helpful content, and incent honest, non-anonymous reviews to create an environment of trust. This summer they also implemented artificial intelligence to boost reviews from verified customers to further combat false reviews.

Yelp and TripAdvisor, two sites built on user-generated reviews, are also becoming increasingly sophisticated at identifying fake reviews. TripAdvisor has a zero-tolerance policy for fake reviews, and penalizes properties that show evidence of falsified customer feedback.

“Retailers need to keep reviews trustworthy, for fear it will damage their ability to sell online,” writes Nikki Baird of Retail Systems Research. “And even store-based retailers have a vested interest in reviews, as checking an online review is often cited by (male) consumers as one of the main reasons they pull out their phone as part of an in-store experience.” But retailers need to strike a balance between ensuring trustworthy reviews and not placing too high a barrier to entry to those who write them.

Baird noted these measures Amazon and other eCommerce sites are taking to improve the quality of their reviews and maintain buyer trust:

  • Verified purchases: Setting up a system of checks to ensure the reviewer has actually purchased the item, and incenting verified buyers to write reviews
  • Reviewer rankings and recognition: Building a community of trust around users who write honest, quality content
  • Review analytics: Surfacing relevant content by allowing users to filter reviews by rating and keywords
  • Trust algorithms: Algorithms based on factors like how old the account is and how many reviews the user has written bring reviews from real reviewers to the surface and bury reviews from troll accounts

Baird concludes, “Retailers (have) incentive to make sure reviews are things consumers can trust. Reviews are definitely here to stay…. I’m not sure that eCommerce would be as mature as it is today if we didn’t have them.”

Our research with PowerReviews supported Baird’s point. In a multi-phase project for that included focus groups with end users, telephone interviews with B2B customers and a survey of both groups, we found:

  • The presence of the verified buyer badge bestows legitimacy on the individual reviewer. It diminishes doubts about the reviewer’s ulterior motives.
  • Seeing multiple reviews by verified buyers adds credibility to the site.
  • Most desirable reviewer profile data includes:
    • Demographics such as location, age and gender
    • Product associated descriptors, i.e., skin type, dwelling type
    • Lifestyle/psychographic descriptors, i.e., serious athlete, comfort oriented

    Contact us to learn more about what consumers want and expect from online reviews.

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