Online review reputation is something that needs to be taken with a grain of salt. People are more inclined to go online and comment about bad service, horrible food or outrageous prices than they are to express thanks for an amazing waiter or waitress, generous portions or someone who went out of their way to make your experience memorable.
As a freelance writer I come across a lot of companies that broker jobs for clients; some want general reviews of services and others want glowing, positive (yet not factual) reviews. That is where the dark side of online reviews come in to play. I have seen companies ask for positive and negative reviews; the positive ones are carefully placed on consumer review websites and the negative ones are planted on competitor websites or as open-blog postings.
A little over a year ago there was a job offer for $10.00 per “review” with the criteria being 300 to 400 words, including seven chosen key words into the body of the review and using the exact title that was provided. The review was negative in tone and was clearly to be used to sway potential customers from using a specific company. Not only is that unethical, it is something that could result in a slander and defamation of character lawsuit. But that is only part of the story.
The company that was putting up the $10.00 jobs was not a competitor of “Company ABC”, in fact they had no connection to them or their general industry. They were one of several online reputation management companies that guarantee they will track down and subsequently remove negative reviews of your company from websites. In a nutshell they are creating a need for their business. The post the information, “find it”, contact the company about what they came across to ‘let them know’ and then once they are paid by a company they turn around and remove the negative reviews. Pretty slick if you ask me.
They contact freelance writing sites and offer jobs; when I was contacted with a “private list” of jobs that started at $10.00 I was more than a little curious about it so I started to investigate it. I was told that I would have to sign a non-compete and non-disclosure agreement if I accepted the terms. While that isn’t odd, it was a seven page document that clearly stated that I, the writer, was completely responsible for the submitted work. That’s the loophole that alleviates them from being held as liable. Even if I wrote 30 pieces for them, $300.00 was not worth the potential aggravation.
With websites like YELP, Angie’s List and the now defunct Epinions, there’s little or no moderation to what is posted. Most of the websites that accept “unbiased” reviews from consumers have statements that the views expressed are that of individuals, another convenient loophole. It’s not uncommon to see the same type of review posted over and over, reworded slightly but still the same general remarks. That alone could be enough to keep someone from trying a certain pizza shop, day spa or construction company but the reverse is also true. Planted (fake) reviews that have nothing but good things to say can have the “Sucker Effect” on a business.
As a freelance writer I have the freedom to pick and choose my jobs; some of them are interesting and don’t seem the least bit like work and others are tedious and mind-numbing. I draw the line at ‘product pimping’ and writing reviews for companies to sell their product (or to degrade a competitor) without having personal experience with it.
The next time you are looking for someone to fix your roof, watch your dog or change your tires and you seek out online reviews of companies, services or products you need to think twice about the positive reviews and take the negative reviews with a grain of salt. Much like in The Wizard of Oz, the little man behind the curtain pulling the strings and pushing the buttons can skew the truth regarding a company in less than five hundred keystrokes.