The state of New York recently made a major breakthrough on the crackdown of fake online reviews, validating the importance for businesses to maintain a reputation that is both truthful and ethical.

What Happened in NY

Finally scratching the surface of fake online reviews, also known as ‘astroturfing,’ was a sting operation known as, “Operation Clean Turf” set up by the New York attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, to target companies willing to write up fake reviews and those that buy them.

Schneiderman announced on Monday that a total of 19 companies were caught red-handed and fined a total of $350,000 and the year-long investigation has been the biggest crackdown to date on the Internet. The companies have agreed to cease their misleading, unethical practices and have agreed to pay the monetary penalties. The accused range from bus service, teeth-whitening, and laser-hair removal companies, to reputation enhancement firms commissioned to write and place fake reviews on sites such as Google, Yelp, and Citysearch.

Why It’s So Serious 

The classic false advertising maneuvers can’t even be comparable to recent ongoing ‘astroturfing’ tactics. As Schneiderman noted, “What we’ve found is even worse than old-fashioned false advertising, when you look at a billboard, you can tell it’s a paid advertisement — but on Yelp or Citysearch, you assume you’re reading authentic consumer opinions, making this practice even more deceiving.”

It makes total sense that people are now being paid to write fake online reviews. Almost all customers (72%, to be exact) trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations for making almost every type of purchasing decision (Search Engine Land). And a one-star rating increase translates into a 5-9% increase in revenue (2011 Harvard Business School Study). As mentioned in this New York Times article, what makes this investigation so serious is that, “a phony review of a restaurant may lead to a bad meal, which is disappointing. But the investigation uncovered a wide range of services buying fake reviews that could do permanent damage: dentists, lawyers, even an ultrasound clinic.”

For several years now, fake online reviews and claims have plagued Yelp’s reputation, which, to help combat that, Yelp recently went as far as to file a law suit against a San Diego law firm for $25,000 for writing fake reviews and accusing the firm of risking the online review source’s authenticity to its site visitors. Yelp has its way of finding deceptive reviews with their very own detection tools.

What Customers Can Do

The reality is, unfortunately, that “about 15-20% of online reviews are fake,” according to Mary K. Engle, who directs the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Advertising Practices. To find out if an online review is fake or not is to simply look at multiple online review sites. Flowery descriptions, clichés, lack of details, awful spelling and grammar mistakes, and overly eager punctuation marks (like this!!!) are signs of a fake review. Overly swayed reviews (swaying either in the highly positive or negative direction) are probably fake. It’s important to note that fake online reviews will never completely go away, but thanks to crackdowns, like the one in NY, deceptive reviews will cease from producing on a mass scale.

What Companies Can Do 

Fake Online Reviews Get a Zero Star Rating | Small Screen Producer Digital and Inbound Marketing Agency Houston

The recent rapid fire at fake online reviews hints at the growing importance of maintaining a healthy online reputation, in an ethical way. Not every customer is going to stick their nose up to any and every company with a bad review. What’s important for a company to do if they’ve been struck with a few bad reviews is this: address it head-on as quickly as possible and provide a resolution. Simple. That’s the most respectable, true blue thing they can do for themselves and for their customers, who see a review as something of truth, authenticity, and accuracy. There are ways to improve and enhance your online reputation, but writing fake reviews isn’t one of them. When your online reviews are inevitably caught and found to be bogus, who’s going to consider your company and anything you have to say at all?

Need some help with maintaining and enhancing your online reputation, but writing a fake review is NOT the way you want to go? Click below to learn more about Small Screen Producer’s online reputation management services. 

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About Small Screen Producer

Small Screen Producer is a full service, marketing firm located in Houston, Texas that specializes in online digital media marketing through a 4-step process. Step 1: WE PLAN a custom web presence strategy for your business through website design and development, mobile development, social media account creation and branding. STEP 2: We then POSITION your brand through Pay-Per-Click advertising and search engine optimize tactics that include on-page and off-page SEO that are Google and Bing approved. STEP 3: We then PROMOTE your brand using an Inbound marketing strategy or a content marketing strategy to help you accomplish your marketing goals. We do this through blogging, video production, infographics, call-to-actions, landing pages, and free educational offers. We help you build trust and rapport with your customer base. STEP 4: We then PROTECT your brand’s web presence with a reputation management program that monitors social media and on line reviews. Get started today with a free online marketing assessment of your company’s web presence. Your company deserves it.

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