PHOENIX - Many of you will be checking product reviews before choosing what to buy loved ones for Christmas.
Raquel Gonzalez said she checks reviews all the time.
“Between misleading and unknowledgeable sales staff, I’ll trust the tech blogger who knows his stuff,” Gonzalez said.
Freelance storyteller, writer, and prominent Valley blogger Tyler Hurst said, “people are understanding that social sharing and reviews from normal people are why people buy.”
But he added that he has spotted what he believed to be fake reviews on sites like iTunes and Yelp.
What he means by that are reviews by people he suspected to be employees of the companies promoting the product the person was reviewing.
“You can always spot them because there is one review, it’s a fake picture, and they have no friends and it’s this glowing 5-star review that isn't even possible. Both companies and PR companies do that; it’s not limited to mom and pop companies who don't know what they are doing,” Hurst said.
There's another reason why the review in question seemed suspect to Hurst.
“It was too well written, sounds strange, but it sounded too good, it sounded like somebody had worked on it, it feels like people are lying to us because they are, because those reviews are not necessarily true,” he said.
I asked several different public relations people to sound-off on this issue.
None of them wanted to comment in fear of losing their jobs, but one person who works at a Valley public relations firm did say, “Companies hire employees at PR agencies all the time to comment favorably on their behalf of products and services on review sites, online news stories, or anywhere online public opinion is being expressed.”
On an online video on the Federal Trade Commission’s website Mary Engle posted this message: “Don't you want to know if reason the consumer is giving a rave review is because they are being paid by the advertiser to say it?”
The FTC is not only hunting for fake reviews, they are going after the companies behind them.
Over the phone Engle explained how just last year they made changes to the guidelines overseeing endorsements.
Engle said, “They hadn't been updated since 1980 so didn't address Internet advertising let alone social media advertising.”
Basically, if you are being paid to pitch or receive free products or discounts from the companies you are writing for, you better let the online community know it.
She says the aim is to keep the Internet honest and transparent.
Now there are no fines attached to violating these guidelines but if they catch you they will open an investigation and Engel said have the power to get a court order instructing you to stop.
When the recession hit, ad budgets grew thin just as social media was getting hot.
Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Amazon.com even news websites offer users the ability to comment on products and services, to start trends and create buzz, all for free.
Engle said, “It all kind of came together at the same time."
Meantime Hurst had some advice of his own.
“If you see any terms in there or any sentences that seem manufactured, just copy and paste it into Google and see if you see it somewhere else because what often happens they will just copy and paste the same review over and over and over again on other sites,” he said.
Another suggestions on how to spot a bogus review comes from Pete Raneri, a friend and Web developer in Denver, Colorado who wrote on my Facebook page: “One way to try and tell a review is legit is to read the author's other reviews, because chances are if they have written one, there are more out there and not about the same product. Also, google the author's username to see where it comes up and what content is connected to that name. It's a pain, but it helps make reviews more reliable...”
That is precisely what the FTC also recommended.
Copyright 2010 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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