For most of us, an exceptional number of top-notch online reviews determines which movie, hotel room, car or gadget we will choose over the competition. It’s the same for foodies deciding where to host a celebratory dinner or just looking for a great morning cup of joe.
What’s now a huge problem with falsified online restaurant reviews is going to explode over time. By 2014, 10% to 15% of social media reviews will be fake and paid for by companies, according to a new study by tech research company Gartner. Increased customer reliance on amateur reviews exacerbates unmerited ratings.
Increasingly, businesses buy forged and unmerited five-star reviews to stay on customers’ radars.
“Many marketers have turned to paying for positive reviews with cash, coupons and promotions including additional hits on YouTube videos in order to pique site visitors’ interests in the hope of increasing sales, customer loyalty and customer advocacy through social media ‘word of mouth’ campaigns,” said Jenny Sussin, senior research analyst at Gartner.
Studies show even the smallest push for fake positive reviews makes a huge difference in restaurant success. According to a University of California, Berkeley study, a slight half-star improvement increases the number of dinner reservations at an eatery.
Third-party businesses are getting rich busting out five-star reviews. Entrepreneurs offer to write positive restaurant reviews on help-for-hire sites like Fiverr and online forum Digital Point, according to The New York Times.
Gartner points out the Federal Trade Commission is cracking down on fake reviews, while the media attention is getting big brands in trouble. Companies face litigation from the FTC for forging fake reviews.
Gartner is reporting consumer trust in social media is currently low. However, the online numbers say otherwise. Nearly 78 million people visit reviews site Yelp per quarter — so every few months. Real-time reservation network OpenTable reports it hit 15 million restaurant reviews this month, since launching in 2008.
How much do you rely on online reviews? Tell us in the comments if the amount of muck online deters your reliance on crowdsourced ratings.
Image courtesy of Flickr, B Tal