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Online reviews—a blessing or a curse?

Updated on May 4, 2016

How true are reviews?

Are reviews credible any longer? Whether they are on a website, forum or blog, how accurate and impartial are reviews? We can all contribute these days and anonymously, however this does open the floodgates for fake reviews that are either paid for or written by friends or family. Alternatively, it also allows others to be vindictive and enact revenge on a person or a business, but if the company can prove it's libel and knows who that person is then there is a chance for redress. Unfortunately, it can be costly and time consuming, but when a livelihood is at stake then people have a right to fight for their reputation.

Where to search

Reviews can help us to decide what to buy, who to hire or where to stay on a vacation. There are so many places to look at, so where do you begin? If it’s computer related I will look at forums where experts tend to discuss things or the website of a specialist journal. Here, you can see from the profile and the knowledge of the poster and even ask a question on a forums, and on a website, they update information regularly and you can look up the credentials of the writer to see their expertise and knowledge.

In my experience blogs by enthusiasts can be inaccurate, and if they are carrying adverts on their page it’s possible they may be paid to endorse products. I also steer clear of YouTube clips as these are not always accurate and again, many users post clips for residual income. Some blogs do carry good advice, but check their experience and also any disclaimers on the site and bear in mind the date the review was written, as many blogs aren't updated and get abandoned.

TripAdvisor

Advice, reviews and ratings from around the world.
Advice, reviews and ratings from around the world. | Source

Yelp can make or break a business

Source

A review can make or break a business

For anything to do with travel the main one is TripAdvisor, which can be an excellent advert for a business or ruin one as many hotels and restaurants have found. Many do win TripAdvisor awards and proudly display them and the stickers in the window as an indication of public approval.

TripAdvisor don’t monitor posts, but the owner or representative of what is being reviewed can respond to any negative comments. The same goes for Amazon, where people can respond and rate reviews.

There are several ways to spot a fake review;

  1. Check the profile and see how may other reviews have been made by the same person and check the dates they said they visited or bought the product. Someone who buys and reviews a book a day after it’s been launched has to be considered dubious, especially when all the reviews happen on the same day. (Paid reviews stipulate a purchase and a review and many list the ‘task’ and have to see it before they are paid, so people rush to write a review.)
  2. A good review would say good and bad things, so one with all good things or only bad things would warrant another look. Even if there is nothing bad a real reviewer would still make suggestions as to what could be improved.
  3. Look at what others rated the review, because often that is when people agree with the review.
  4. When people have a grievance they get others to post at the same time and often it is a review that can be biased for personal reasons.
  5. Cross reference the reviews, because if no one mentions the same thing, then it maybe fake.

Most people expect some reviews to be fake and those are often the ones with only one review or that are written as if they are a brochure (as they have been told what to write) and there is no personal experience in the review. A genuine reviewer will have made forum posts and reviewed a number of places, from hotels, restaurants and local attractions. You can view their contributor level and how many badges they have to determine the authenticity of the reviewer. With Amazon, you can also view a profile and see if there is any strange patterns. Unfortunately I have seen 'tasks' advertised to comment on negative reviews, so again one should be wary of this.

Have you ever left a bad review?

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Anonymous usernames

Consider everything you write on the internet as public, even a username can’t protect you if you make a false review. In the case of Yelp, a court in Virginia forced them to hand over the IP addresses of people who had made negative comments about a company that they claimed were false, as those people were never customers. That is the only stipulation Yelp has, you don’t need to use your real name,but you need to have been a customer as all IP addresses are logged. As such, the owner was able to sue for defamation if he could prove they had not been customers.

How to check for a good review

Good
Possible fake
Weighs up the pros and cons
Only has positive things to say or bad things
Reveals personal information and feelings
Has no personal comment to make
Will use the first person in writing
Makes short statements that sound manufactured
Will have other reviews on similar things
Has no other reviews and the profile is new or has random items reviewed

Review websites

Source

The bad reviews

People often take to social media to write a bad review or to vent and the company nearly always responds immediately, to save their reputation. My brother once tweeted a CEO of a company he was having difficulties dealing with, and immediately the Managing Director was available for a meeting to discuss the issues at hand.

Unfortunately bad reviews will always exist, as you can’t please everyone all the time. Check the date of the review as some maybe old and an establishment may have been refurbished or has new management. The internet stores the bad,even if it is no loner applicable. Read between the lines, when people vent often they may have had a part to play in matters, but don't wish to admit to it. The articulation of the reviewer can be important, because sometimes people feel they were treated unjustly and it may have been their own fault.

Do you use your real name or an anonymous one when you review?

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No reviews?

Very few places have no reviews, but they exist and I would proceed with caution. If an establishment has no social media or independent reviews, ask yourself why? I discovered this first hand and it’s because people may have had a bad experience, but wanted to forget about it and put it behind them. This is usually for non-profit organizations or volunteer programs because they may need a reference from that body and don’t want to jeopardize things. They can’t write a good review, but won’t write a bad one either. This is the same for companies where people can leave their reviews on glassdoor, anonymously, though it appears that even an approved post can mysteriously disappear and be removed!

What to believe?

The best way is to do an internet search with the keywords and then select a few random sites of both good and bad reviews. I find forums useful to cross reference this, however I have also found owners of companies either lurking and defending their company or under another name in many forums. Most reviewers can be contacted via a personal message, so you could ask for confirmation of any queries. On most forums and sites people are happy to share their knowledge.

Even bad companies can improve and good companies can let their standards slip, so no one experience will be exactly the same, but a review empowers you and to be forewarned is forearmed.

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