Opinion: Why the hidden world of reviews is a huge challenge for communicators
Tim Williams, senior account manager at Firefly Communications Group, argues that comms professionals must treat online reviews as a priority when managing reputation.
Did you hear about musician Jered Eames organising an entire European tour for his band Threatin by faking a huge online following? The story was hard to miss in late 2018. Labelled ‘the great heavy metal hoax’, Eames’ scam was covered by the BBC, Daily Telegraph and Rolling Stone, to name just a few.
He has since claimed that the hoax was a cleverly orchestrated publicity stunt. Whether it was or wasn’t, it undoubtedly was an impressive use of online tools to build a reputation for his band.
Eames identified that building trust among venue owners and event organisers would be key. He knew that they wouldn’t book Threatin if they didn’t think punters would buy tickets, so he manufactured a potential audience through comments and reviews posted on social media channels.
Research in 2017 established that online reviews really impact purchasing decisions for 93% of consumers and 92% of businesses – Eames’ fake reviews satisfied this; they acted as validation and social proof of the band, its quality and its ticket-purchasing following.
This is just the latest story that shines a light on the growing power of online reviews. It’s no surprise then that reviews programmes are increasingly being added to the communications agenda.
If marketing departments are to utilise online reviews effectively though, they must first get to grips with a number of key elements that are changing the reviews landscape and, if not handled appropriately, could undermine reputations which took years to develop.
One such risk is the way consumers are increasingly using voice search. Whilst search engines rank multiple results to an ‘enquiry’, virtual assistants, such as Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, list only the top results in their verbal response.
Ask Siri for “the best restaurant near me” and it will state the following information: name of the restaurant, the food it serves, pricing and its average review score. Of those pieces of information, only its review score influences its position as the one Siri recommends.
As the use of virtual assistants and voice search become the norm, businesses must prioritise being at the top of the recommendations list. The key way to do so is through reviews.
SEO and AdWords
According to MOZ’s Local Search Ranking Factors Survey, online reviews make up 10% of how Google and other search engines rank search results and a review score can also impact the position of an advert on Google.
The search engine will accept a lower bid from an advertiser if what’s being advertised is more likely to be clicked by the user. So, if there are three advert slots for a certain keyword, with one at the top of the results page and two at the bottom, the one at the top in the best position may have been a lower bid, but has been prioritised because of its stronger review rating.
The reasoning is simple: Google wants to present the best options, even if they earn slightly less from the ad.
As Jered Eames proved, social media reviews have a big impact on how a person, service or business can be perceived by those yet to experience them. His band’s Facebook page is full of comments saying how great the live show was – showing both how Threatin can sell tickets and how good they are live.
In this case, the reviews weren’t real, but the influence they can have on decision-makers is clear. For the venue organisers he duped, based on his website and social media pages, there was no reason to believe he couldn’t sell a reasonable number of tickets.
It’s not just Eames who uses fake reviews to get ahead. Some businesses also employ this unethical practice, whereby they either give themselves positive reviews from a fake account or leave fabricated negative reviews for competitors.
Tools that identify and remove fake reviews are available, but they’re not advanced enough to catch those more authentic-looking ones. Comms teams must be swift in responding to or reporting fake reviews that slip through the net – after all, they’re directly affecting reputation, so should be attended to with the utmost urgency and importance.
Harnessing the power of reviews
To truly harness the power of reviews, an effective reviews programme must be measured as equal in importance to many other communications tactics and activities. That means communicators must have processes and contingencies in place for identifying a threat, finding a solution and implementing it quickly and effectively, as well as the funding to make this possible.
The reputations we spend years building can be damaged in seconds as a consequence of online reviews – it’s time for the comms world to get to grips with this challenge. Because if we don’t, it’s not just the reputation of businesses that’s affected, it’s ours too.
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