How You Can Use PR to Solve the Issue of Fake Online Reviews

Shannon Menard
By Shannon Menard

Online reviews were designed to improve the purchasing process for consumers by giving them a simple way to research products. By learning about the experiences of people who’ve already bought and used a product, consumers are able to make a more informed decision. However, in the competitive online marketplace, fake reviews in exchange for free products are becoming more and more rampant as brands attempt to get an upper hand.

Despite what some may think, reviews don’t have to come from a spam bot to be disingenuous, according to PR Daily. More often, reviews are tainted by dishonest marketing practices. The most popular practice of this strategy is encouraging fake or crafted reviews by incentivising individuals with free products.

One yoga and fitness blogger reported to CBS that she was approached in a private Facebook group to leave a review in exchange for a free dress. She picked out a dress from a small selection and was told to leave a review on Amazon with an attached photo.

Although this type of practice seems common amongst marketers who work with social media influencers, fake reviews are dishonest, as they are not labeled as a promotion and are misleading in nature.

As a brand, you want to keep your reviews real and be as transparent as possible to maintain your authenticity and be seen as trustworthy by consumers. This, unfortunately, is easier said than done. Rising tensions over fake news and overall skepticism of companies has left consumers less trusting of online reviews in general.

At the end of the day, fake reviews can seriously damage your brand’s image. Adding incentives to write a review leads to a positive bias instead of a sincere opinion. This false messaging about your products can frustrate consumers if your offerings do not perform as advertised or look the way they are described in a review.

On top of that, fake reviews make your brand look inauthentic. It’s obvious to consumers when reviews seem “cookie cutter” and are essentially written by the company itself. Although having all-positive reviews may seem like a good thing, it can tip off consumers that something is not right.

In this environment of mistrust and battling brand perceptions, an effective public relations strategy is key.

How to Use PR to Combat Fake Online Reviews

Wendy Agudelo asserts that PR professionals must address the lack of trust in online reviews to protect brands. “As a communications professional, you may view this era of mistrust as both challenging and opportunistic. Falling back on what helped garner your initial credibility as a PR pro – authenticity, facts and relationships – will be the scaffolding that supports you going forward.”

In the world of PR, it’s essential to always be in the know of what’s being said about your brand. By understanding how your brand is perceived by consumers in online reviews, social media and other outlets, you’ll be able to engage with them and help shape their views. More importantly, you’ll also be able to stay ahead of harmful messaging.

To prevent fake online reviews from hurting your business and protect the integrity of your brand, here are 4 public relations strategies that can help.

Informing Your Consumers

Consumers turn to reviews when they’re seeking more information about a product they’re thinking about purchasing. They are trying to research your product to see if it fits what they need.

However, as consumers become weary of fake reviews, brands can use strategic content marketing and media releases to share details about your products’ performance and features. This way potential customers can turn to the source for answers to their questions about your offerings.

When creating content, make sure what you are producing is high quality and has the right information consumers are looking for. Be clear in your messaging and be factual when discussing your product – remember, consumers are turning to your content for answers, not more questions.

Digital + Traditional PR

According to PR Daily, you should also take the time to address your competitors in your content and highlight what makes your product stand out. Comparison blogs, videos or images with your product shown alongside your competitors are some of the most effective ways you can combat knockoff products.

An example of this can be seen in the campaign by Specialized Bicycles. By demonstrating the name-brand helmet’s features against the cheaper imitation brand, the better choice becomes obvious to consumers.

These comparison campaigns allow you to reassure consumers of the value of your brand against cheaper versions with transparency. Visually-driven content is also the most convincing approach for communicating with consumers. People are more inclined to trust what they can see with their own eyes.

Utilize User-Generated Content

Using positive reviews from your customers and repurposing them on your social media is another strategy to make your brand seem more authentic. Social media is a key channel for sharing consumer stories and visual platforms, such as Instagram, are popular to post client reviews.

Breaking up your usual social media feed with a testimonial can also help you grab consumers’ attention. While people may enjoy the images or content you post, most won’t be driven to make a purchase without knowing if the product will be satisfactory. By simply creating an image with your product and including a quote from a review on your website, your brand will seem more credible.

To reassure consumers that the product reviews you’re posting are genuine, you should also make sure the review came from a verified customer. Then, tag them in your post or provide links to their social pages (with their permission) to verify the review came from a real person.

Engaging with consumers online helps you build more of a relationship with them and improve your brand’s image. You should not only share quotes or testimonials but also like, comment and share consumers’ posts that mention your product. Consumers will appreciate that their story is being heard and as social media influencers are gaining more notoriety, they’ll be open to the extra publicity.

Keep Your Negative Reviews

As tempting as it is to disregard or cover up bad reviews, it’s important to embrace them. It’s better to acknowledge the negative experiences of a consumer and show that you are willing to help make things right.

Doing so helps the individual feel validated and more likely to purchase from your brand in the future. In addition to helping one customer, you are also helping other potential customers feel confident in your brand’s customer service as they make purchasing decisions.

By trying to give the impression that your brand is perfect, you can actually hurt your image and trustworthiness. Ignoring bad reviews makes you seem like you don’t care or worse yet, that the negative things said in the poor review are true.

There’s also consequences to hiding or deleting negative reviews. Consumers can get suspicious if they are scrolling through your Facebook page and only finding positive feedback. When researching your brand, consumers want to be aware of the cons of your offerings and what you are doing to work on them.

As Steve Olenski wrote in Forbes, “visitors are positively impressed by honesty. It builds credibility, loyalty and sales.” Consumers appreciate when a brand can recognize its own shortcomings and engage with consumers to show it cares about their experiences. The value of forging these types of relationships should not be underestimated.

Maintain Transparency

Being honest in addressing negative reviews is not the only time a brand should be transparent. It’s crucial to have open and frequent communications as a brand and not let creativity or strategy interfere with straightforward and accurate information in your campaigns.

This includes press releases as well. When highlighting new information, it’s worthwhile to discuss the pros while also talking about how you plan to improve the cons. Consumers want to know their voices are being heard and want to see how your brand is being proactive in fulfilling their needs. By addressing their concerns, you are more likely to build a long-term relationship with your customers through mutual respect and trust.

Agudelo, of Axia Public Relations, warns of the importance of transparency not only in the content of press releases but also in their delivery. “When disseminating news, consider using wire services for broad delivery in lieu of cherry-picking specific outlets to ensure that all media receive the same information at the same time.” She added that by appearing on a variety of media outlets, your brand will seem more authentic to consumers and prevent the bias of new sources from affecting your brand’s image.

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