When you’re reading reviews of a local service or a business online, how can you be sure those satisfied customers are legitimate or that those disgruntled customers aren’t competitors looking to gain some online advantage?
As people, we give huge credibility to online reviews. I know that when I’m looking to buy something or I’m in a strange town looking for a place to eat, I go to Yelp.com.
My executive producer Christa and I were going to dinner in Austin the other night while we were traveling on my Living Large in Lean Times book tour. She is a full vegan and picked a place to eat from some vegan follower’s website. When we drove up to the place, it was a dump (that’s the clean version of the word we used!) and we both vetoed it.
So I pull off to the side of road and go to Yelp to find another place that had a zillion reviews. It was the kind of place where Christa could have a vegan tapioca cheese pizza and I could have a regular cheese pizza. Yelp really came through for us.
The thing is, you’ve got to know there are people out there being paid to post glowing reviews and you’ve got to try to work your way around them.
One site that I’ve talked about in the past (Fiverr.com) is a portal where you can post what legitimate thing you’re willing to do for $5. Now it’s filled with offers from people who say they will post fake reviews of your product, service or website.
I’m looking now on Fiverr.com and one post I’m seeing is from somebody who says they have 33 different reviews already written and you pick the one you want them to falsely post!
Know that most reviews being posted online are for the most part completely legit. But you’ve got to be able to sense the difference. It’s more art than science, but here are some tips I can share from my own experience with review sites, particularly the big in the travel industry.
On TripAdvisor.com, I don’t pay attention to any reviews written by British people because they aren’t accustomed to our hotels and indiscriminately love everything. Ditto for New Yorkers who are used to cramped conditions and think any room is spacious even if it’s the size of a shoebox.
Nor do I pay any attention to people who whine about room service. (I never order room service anyway, so what do I care?) What I am looking for is the preponderance of opinion. With any review site, you have to look for collective wisdom and not let one complainer deter you from booking or eating somewhere. You want a lot of reviews and you want them to be ones you sense are truly genuine.
It is collective wisdom that defeats the phony reviews.
Editor’s note: This segment originally aired in August 2011.