The era of reputation enhancement may soon be coming to a screeching halt – bringing an end to the deceptive practices of companies and brands who have been found guilty of paying people to leave positive reviews about their goods and services.
According to a recent article in the New York Times, regulators in that state have announced a bona fide crackdown targeting 19 companies that have engaged in creating misleading positive public opinion about them. The 19 companies face penalties of up to $350,000.
New Steps to End an Old Practice
This practice is nothing new. In 2011, the New York Times published an article reporting on the rapidly increasing number of businesses willing to pay people to go to websites like Yelp and Yahoo to leave five-star reviews. At the time, the phenomenon even prompted Cornell University researchers to develop an algorithm that could be used to tell if a review was legitimate or phonied up for the purposes of artificially inflating quality ratings. The latest move by New York State regulators, however, is a big step that will is likely to lead to more widespread action on the part of local governments and – quite possibly – internet service providers and search engines.
The Financial Implications of an Extra Star
In the middle of the race to enforce honesty among social media users is the desire among business owners to earn a living. In a Harvard Business School study performed in 2011, it was determined that an overall one-star rating increase on Yelp translated to a 9 percent increase in business revenue for restaurants. For a major chain restaurant, that’s big. But when it comes to privately owned restaurants (and the same can be said for any type of company that is listed with Yelp, not just places that serve food) 9% could be the difference between going out of business or staying alive for another year.
Solutions for Straight Shooters
So what can average business owners who want to improve their standing on sites like Yelp, Google Places, or Yahoo do to help their cause without resorting to deceptive practices? Quite a bit, in fact. And it all starts out with something called great customer service. Experts agree that business owners should make full use of the dexterity of the variety of social media channels in existence.
For example, if all a business owner is using their Facebook page for is to promote upcoming specials and talk about how great their goods and services are, they’re doing something wrong. Customer engagement is a frequently underutilized strategy that can work far more effectively than writing someone a check – or bribing them with gift certificates and coupons – to leave positive online feedback. An open line of communication between business owner and customer can be used to identify areas of needed improvement.
In other words, instead of simply trying to bury negative reviews and complaints with fabricated praise, business owners should instead use those opportunities to ensure customers are getting good service. This may require a bit more hard work than just paying a third party to write up a bunch of fake reviews, but considering the overtures legislators are starting to make to stomp out this practice, it could soon be the only way. Fortunately, it’s also the one that makes the most sense.
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