The Online Review Myth

We’re the best. Even ask us.

In our first year of business, a client spoke to us about a problem they had with their Google reviews. After 18 reviews over three years, they were tracking at 2.2 stars (out of 5) and they were concerned that it was costing them business. They asked us if we could help them sort it out (in other words turn 2.2 into 4+). We said that if they were prepared to train their team to provide a higher level of service, we would “fix” their star rating. They said they would, and so we did.

Within a month we had the clients’ average up to 4.2 stars. A month after we stopped the program, it was down to 3.4. Within three months it was back down to 2.2. Nothing had changed, but for the month in between, online shoppers would have come across a 4.2 star business and potentially used that to make a buying decision. We haven’t offered this service since.

More a measure of a colleague network than performance.

A friend of mine started a new business a couple of years ago. Within the first month he had 12 new reviews, all 4-star and above. None of them were clients, all friends and family members who were following a script he had designed. In fairness, his business was solid and delivered a good service so an argument could be made that whilst not authentic, the reviews were a reflection of the business. But it still felt greasy.

It is not unusual for businesses to run campaigns with the sole purpose for gaining reviews however they can muster – promotions, incentives, discounts. Professional networking groups encourage blind reviews from their members to the point where discomfort and alienation ensues for those who are uncomfortable doing so.

Marketing at its crustiest.

Six months ago I had a motor vehicle serviced and was sent a follow-up from the dealership seeking feedback. If I gave a five-star review they would enter me in a draw to win a $1000 gift card. That particular dealership had more than 70 reviews, all 5-star. I suspect we have all been to restaurants or retail outlets that have offered a similar incentive – positive reviews for meal discounts, free coffees, store credits, and additional gifts.

Settle down, internet.

I’m not suggesting all reviews are fake or manipulated but the reality is that the difference between a business without any reviews and a business with a 10, 20 or even 100 5-star reviews may simply be their marketing commitment.

We don’t naturally leave positive reviews because a good outcome is what we expect – that’s what we pay for. It is only if we are disappointed that we feel compelled to tell the world about it. And so we need to either massively over deliver (which can be financially troublesome), or provide incentives in order to get the feedback.

Does it really matter?

Well, probably not. But I do think it is important to acknowledge the potential inauthenticity of review systems in general.

In many cases, online reviews are like other measures of online credibility – modified, manipulated, and hand-picked to convince the buyer to choose them. That’s not to say they are inaccurate, but they may well be less relevant than we first think. But let’s also not kid ourselves; They work, and they work spectacularly well.

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