I’ve argued before that online reviews left on platforms like Google, Facebook, Trip Advisor and the like, are simply the wrong way to judge a business.
Over time the problem has got worse, not better.
At the heart of the issue is that there is no control over who can leave a review. All the major platforms say that this is a good thing, allowing people to leave genuine feedback for companies without fear or favour. It means organisations that regularly get poor reviews can then do something about the root cause of customer dissatisfaction and in the process, improve their business.
This sounds like a good thing, so why is it an issue?
As I’ve pointed out before, reviews are far too easily manipulated and, more importantly, there is no real control over them. In my earlier article I wrote:
“Small numbers of reviews can have a disproportionate impact but with no control over who can leave a review and hard words, even if they are unfair, can stick.
This needs to stop. The majority of businesses in the UK have neither the time nor the inclination to be addressing this kind of online behaviour.”
I stand by these words. This current frankly ridiculous obsession with reviews really needs to be halted. If you need a reason why, then take for example the case of ‘At Your Service Heating Cooling and Plumbing’ in Baltimore, U.S.A. This poor company has been hit by a plague of spam reviews on Facebook which are clearly fake yet are still there, months after being reported to Facebook (Meta) as fake. Here’s an example, supposedly from a dissatisfied customer, a Mr Alex Bond.
Here’s the rest of Alex’s Facebook profile – they simply haven’t even been bothered to fill anything in to make it look real; it’s clearly a fake profile.
Even a simple image search on Google shows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this is fake
Google can find this image in use on the internet over 1,500 times. Here’s some examples
More importantly, Google already knows that this is a fake as the following image search for the real Mr Haldar demonstrates
Yet ‘At Your Service’ are currently struggling to respond to a swathe of these reviews, all of which are currently bringing down their excellent reputation.
The reason for this is that there is a new scam in town, this time extortion. Scammers are leaving large numbers of fake reviews for perfectly legitimate businesses, then demanding money in the form of Google Play Gift Cards as payment for removing them. Moreover, the scams are often originating in different countries to the companies being attacked. When the media platforms can see, clearly, where these people are when they leave the review, surely a red flag must go up that someone in, for example, India, is leaving a bad review for a business in Baltimore? Even more so when lots of them do it over a few days?
Of all the platforms being targeted, Google is currently the most responsive and they are acting on the removal of these in a few days. Facebook (or Meta) is the worst, leaving reviews untouched for months on end.
Surely, they can see the harm this is causing? Surely these platforms must realise that they are supporting criminals? If the speed of their response to this problem is anything to go by, probably not.
If companies want feedback from customers, then there are other, better mechanisms for achieving this, rather than the current ‘wild west’ of social media. Just this week, a company I had just cancelled a service with wrote to me and asked for my feedback. I was happy to give it, though I’m not so sure they will be happy to receive it. I was dissatisfied with the way I had been treated as a customer and told them so. I’m hoping they will use this to fix the process issues that continue to dog their service and make a lie of their current TV advertising that portrays them in a far more flattering light. I didn’t feel the urge to publicly take to a social media platform and berate them for their poor service and frankly, I’m at a loss as to understand why people think this is rational or reasonable behaviour.
The problem has got so bad that even the New York Times is reporting on this, with restaurants across the USA being hit with this latest scam. If mainstream media are jumping on this, then surely now is the time to do something about it?
Meanwhile, as the social media platforms allow this practice to continue, real people and real businesses are being affected. The current system of reviews on these platforms is broken and needs to change. I just hope it happens before we see real casualties from the behaviours currently going uncorrected and unpunished.