Last week, I talked about how you really do know what to say in social media. I got lots of nice feedback on that post, but I know that some of you are still skeptical. I know that some of you still believe that old PR maxim to never dignify a scurrilous story with a response. Or that some criticisms are "one-day stories," and answering them just "gives them legs." And some of you are especially adamant about this when it comes to reviews of your business or your products that you just KNOW are fake. And, I am here to tell you that you are wrong.

Let's say that you have the power to even determine which reviews are fake and which ones are real. (More on that magical power later.) And you spot a scathing review that you are convinced was placed there by your arch rival. I know this might be hard to swallow, but the right thing to do in that situation is to answer it, not ignore it. (I know that not all reviews can be answered, but answer the ones that you can, especially in blog posts and message boards).

I can hear some of you objecting that no matter what you answer, your competitor will never be satisfied, so what's the point? The point is that if you constantly treat every review as legitimate and you painstakingly try to help each customer, you'll reap several big benefits:

  • You'll help your real customers all the time
  • You'll show anyone reading the exchange that you are a good company
  • The rest of the readers of the exchange will tell your competitor to shut up

It's the last one that is the most fun. If it really is your rival company trying to sabotage your reviews, then by being kind and helpful, they will have no place to go. They will keep complaining no matter what you offer them to help and eventually everyone else will write them off as lunatics--which is very good for you. It also works if it isn't your competitor but is a real-life lunatic customer. Because you can't tell the difference, even if you think you can.

Cornell University conducted a study that proved that few of us can really tell a genuine review from a fake review. So, even though we think we know, most of us are either too trusting or too suspicious.

But if you follow my advice, you no longer care which ones are real and which ones are ginned-up. You treat them all as real and it just works anyway.

And here is the great news about the Cornell study. We have the hope that software can actually tell the difference between real and fake reviews, because there are patterns of language that people use when they are deceptive. So, someday, Yelp might use that kind of software to remove suspicious reviews so you won't need to worry about them at all.

Just as accounting audit software can detect cooked books (far fewer that 20% of the entries end in a zero or a five, as they would if they were truly random), there are patterns that people use when they are being deceptive that are very hard to overcome.

So, stop worrying about fake reviews, and start worrying about bad reviews. Take action and protect your brand and let everyone else sort out what's real.

Originally published on Biznology

October 17, 2011

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


"treat every review as legitimate and you painstakingly try to help each customer"

Great advice! I know a lot of site owners are wary of getting involved in a spitting match with an online troll, but you can't afford to ignore a real customer with a real problem because you think it might be a fake review. Kill them with kindness!

That's an excellent point, obviously its unavoidable considering the Internet is still the wild west!

As long as you have quality products and services, there's nothing to be worried about. Complains can be helpful, because then you know what your company needs to do to satisfy customers. So tell those "lunatic competitors" to "bring it on!"

I completely agree to Menchie. Till the time you provide genuine goods and services, you'll not struck anywhere. Fake reviews can even make the product/company popular among groups. G8 post. Cheers!!

I have definitely seen some impressive arguments exploding on internet forums. My question is, as the "proactive company trying to help the angry customer out," at what point do you take the conversation offline? Many times angry customers have complicated scenarios that are biased to the angry customer. The only way for readers to understand the company's viewpoint is to explain their side of the story. Maybe you can recommend some ways of dealing with these angry customers on the forums. For sure a quick response of "we're working on fixing your problem" is not enough. At the same time, an exhaustive book explaining the company's side of the story isn't good either.

Yes I totally agree every review should be treated as real and less time spent on worrying if they are real or not.
I've dealt with many positive and some negative but always can find a solution with the negative ones by listening to the customers concerns and finding a solution to them.
I take all reviews seriously and if I find negative ones I will do my best to resolve them until the customer is 100% satisfied.

Fake negative reviews I cannot change but if its real the customer has always returned my emails/phone call and I am always able to work it out.

I agree with Menchie some complaints can be helpful and many times have improved my business because of them.

This is great advice. A big part of our internet presence is based on getting good reviews and testimonials. There are a lot of fakes out there and they have to be dealt with in order to neutralise them.

This is an interesting spin on something that I usually think is negative. Great read!

This is a problem for us as 1 or 2 malicious reviews can be very damaging. Your advice on how to deal with them is very helpful though. Thanks

We take negative reviews offline ASAP. Our first response is something along the lines of, "We're sorry, and we'll be calling you," or "We're sorry, and have left a message on your machine," or "We're sorry, and thank you for taking our call earlier today," or "We're sorry, and please call our president, (give name and phone), at your earliest convenience." A negative review showed up on our Facebook page last year. It took us a while to find her phone number, and our calls kept going to voice mail. We've left messages and have yet to hear from her.

Comments closed after 30 days to combat spam.

Search Engine Guide > Mike Moran > Don't be afraid of fake reviews