Companies view great customer reviews as a holy grail of online content. They want to develop customer experiences that nurture positive, 4-star or better reviews in anticipation of greater conversion, order size, loyalty, and sharing across social media. Countless analytics and online behavior reports back up these beliefs, and it is undeniable that customers seek out and are influenced by other people’s opinions. Marketers understand that socio-psychological phenomena such as swarm mentality and confirmation bias are some of the most powerful influencers in online behavior.
With all the value placed on customer reviews, it should not surprise people that there is a well-established market dedicated to generating and manipulating fake online reviews. This market developed so quickly that Amazon felt the need to sue the authors of fake reviews on its website. Organizations such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), and Association Francaise de Normalisation (AFNOR) have all published guidelines to help protect consumers from fraudulent reviews.
Shoppers and clients are aware of these manipulative reviews, and a recent report stated an amazing 81% of shoppers believe they cannot always detect fake reviews when they are reading them. This is only going to become more and more challenging for readers with the introduction of content-generating AI systems, such as Heliograf from the Washington Post, into the more mainstream. You can even read an example of such text here. Hey, who’s to say I didn’t employ a robot to post this piece of writing?
[Disclaimer: At the time of writing, Perficient Digital employs only real life humanoids to author and publish original, thought-provoking content.]
In the post-truth era, even psychologists are questioning the value of truth. Here are just a few ways the prevalence of deception is changing shoppers and their perception of reviews.
Quality AND Quantity
Shoppers are very aware of the existence of fake reviews. In order to minimize the deceptions’ influence, shoppers require an increasing number of positive reviews, much like statisticians when they increase sample size. In fact, a product reviewed more than 50 times sees significant conversation rate increases. Shoppers only begin to trust reviews once they are sure authenticity has outweighed any deception.
Conversation Content is King
Customers in the research phase are more interested in the conversations within reviews than the reviews themselves. Marketers know that the dialogue a review creates provides credibility to the review and generates a level of trust in both the reviewer and the brand. The way a company deals with unhappy customers demonstrates the reliability of the brand, and how reviewers back up their review within the dialog strengthens the authenticity of both parties. Companies like Bazaarvoice have even dedicated whole blog categories to helping brands support authentic content. However, shoppers are becoming ever more suspicious of short, hyper-positive reviews and are turning to the dialogue customers provide to validate the opinions expressed.
In the post-truth era, winning customers over with reviews has become harder than before. Customers approach content that used to be trusted with even more skepticism, and brands must work harder to nurture their online community. Winning hearts and minds is key to building strong brands, and the game is getting harder.
To learn more about fostering community, see our recent post, “Creating a Brand Community Among Your Customers.”