Understanding fake negative reviews: why people post them and how to respond

Did you ever have to deal with a situation when somebody accused the company you work so hard for with some wrong doing that was simply not true?

If you have, you know the feelings. A cocktail of anger and frustration mixed in with a good portion of helplessness, and a sprinkle of insecurity – what should you do about it?

If you haven’t yet, beware, it can happen anytime. If you’re caught unprepared, you may act under the impulse of these strong emotions and make it worse than it is.

So here’s a first aid kit to help you manage a sensitive situation like this. It includes insights into the reasons why people resort to fake negative reviews, how to spot them and, most importantly, what you can do about it. First thing’s first. Let’s understand why this happens.

6 reasons why people post fake negative reviews

When it first happened to us, at RomSoft, it made a strong impact on me. I had been managing the RomSoft Facebook page for a longtime, and I honestly thought 1-star reviews were reserved for those companies treating their customers horribly or showing an overall unprofessional conduct of their business. Also, I couldn’t believe the reason why it happened: the reviewer and I were just having a heated debate over a strong subject (i.e. Rosia Montana). Back then, I’d never think that somebody can be so immature in order to turn a somewhat political argument into a personal revenge. So, my opponent checked my profile, saw where I worked and gave my workplace a 1-star rating. Very grown-up, I know.

its getting hot in here

This situation made me wonder what else would motivate somebody to post a fake negative review about a product or service they never used, and furthermore, have no intention to do so. After doing some research, I figured out there are 6 big reasons why people decide to post fake negative reviews online:

  1. Unethical competitors
    In the same way that business owners may be tempted to post fake positive reviews to increase their online rating, they may also be tempted to post fake negative reviews on the pages of their competitors, to lower down their ratings.
  2. Financial Gains
    This is no. 1 taken to the next level – the business of fake reviews – and unfortunately if people want to go down this road, they have many options:
    Perhaps the most extreme story you’ll ever read on the subject of fake reviews businesses is that of Oobah Butler, a former writer for hire of fake reviews on TripAdvisor. This experience inspired him to set up an entirely fake restaurant – The Shed at Dulwich – which he managed to move up to no. 1 ranking restaurant in London. This experiment proves that the virtual business world can easily become a false reality, even with a trusted, verified platform.
  3. Obtain discounts or other benefits
    A small part of internet users, although they are real buyers, may leave negative fake reviews not because they’re dissatisfied but in order to obtain some advantages on their purchase. They are very much aware that many businesses will do anything to avoid conflicts with their customers.
  4. Better exposure
    Some Internet users may seek to gain authority by using their “expert” user reviews as a way to create back-links to their own sites, blogs etc. By giving 1-2 star ratings they ensure more people will read their comments. Unfortunately, research suggests that most of us instinctively prefer to read extreme reviews because they’re less ambivalent and therefore easier to process.
  5. Personal issues
    As was my own experience, some people try to “resolve” personal frustrations with business owners or employees by leaving fake negative reviews on their company’s online pages.
  6. Ethical views
    People tend to punish companies that they believe are acting unethical (for example in the environmental area). At the far end, there is the example of how Trump supporters and others accused CNN of threatening a Reddit user and took justice into their own hands by leaving thousands of 1-star reviews on CNN’s mobile app.

How to tell fake reviews from real ones

As a business owner, you may have to put up your detective hat in order to tell which negative reviews are fake. Here are a few clues that will help you decide which reviews are fake:

  • They use vague, non-specific language (reviewer uses a lot “I” and “me” instead of concrete words related to the service or product)
  • They are posted in suspicious patterns (similar wording, close submission times)
  • The complaints are unrelated to the product or service you offer
  • Description of the purchase (or business relationship) doesn’t fit reality. For example, the reviewer says you talked on the phone on Saturday, but you were closed on Saturday
  • Details of the purchase cannot be tracked in your client database
  • The “customer” can’t/won’t provide additional info about the purchase (order number etc.)
  • The reviews are posted by users who are using nicknames instead of their real names

How to fight fake negative reviews

fight back

Here are some actions you can take to minimize the damage:

  • Make it a rule to respond to every review, including fake ones. Why is this important?

According to this study by Bright Local, 89% of users read businesses’ responses to reviews, and 30% of customers feel positive about a business which responds to online reviews.

Moreover, an impressive portion of 95% of unsatisfied customers will return to a company if it manages to solve the issues quickly and efficiently, according to Social Media Today.

  • Answer in a professional, polite manner

Even when it’s clear for you that the reviewer never bought your product or used your service, it is important to say you are sorry for any inconvenient created and you appreciate that they took the effort to write to you about it.

  • Always offer a solution

Offer an email address where anybody can submit a ticket with their purchase/order number and description of the problem. That would be a true challenge for a fake customer.

  • Make it super easy for real customers to review your service/products

This will hopefully bring you enough legitimate positive reviews to counterbalance a future trolling event.

  • Whenever possible, make use of the tools offered by online platforms to have fake reviews removed (such as a report button).

In my case this worked, the fake review was taken down by Facebook. Beware not to use these options to have legitimate negative reviews removed. It will backfire for sure.

Asking for positive reviews from legitimate customers – good or bad?

According to Podium, 77% of users would leave a review if asked. But is it a good idea to reach out to your customers and ask them to write a review?

Recently, a friend got his business page trolled with several 1-star ratings, by users he could not identify as real customers in his client database. In response, he wrote about it on Facebook and asked for positive reviews from his real customers, in order to get his rating back to a decent level. He got many positive reviews from his customer friends, as well as many support messages. However, it’s a bit tricky because friends may tend to leave slightly exalted comments. Even if they have the best of intentions, these ratings can have a negative impact on your long-term business credibility. Take into account that the online medium is rapidly evolving and legit users already have tools like Fakespot to evaluate online reviews.

Is there an even better way to ask for reviews?

Yes, by making it very easy for the customer to add reviews. After every online interaction, you can ask the customer to rate it, and moreover, give them an opportunity to express themselves if something went wrong. This will help you address problems at a very early stage, and also have a larger, organically grown, positive reviews base, so that a few negative ones won’t affect your score too much. On the other hand, Yelp, a crowd-sourced review forum, has taken a hard-line stance against soliciting any reviews, even from real customers and without any incentives. Its reasoning is that organic reviews are the only truly unadulterated and unbiased customer feedback. It may also have the desire to create a clear, bright-line policy that is easy to state and enforce.

Key takeaways

After carefully reviewing my experience and the lessons I’ve learned from it, here’s what I think you should keep in mind when it comes to fake online reviews:

  • To ensure a constant pace of positive organic reviews/ratings on your business pages, make it super easy for customers to leave a review.
  • Don’t be afraid of negative reviews. A small proportion of them will benefit your business, in terms of credibility. Studies show 52% of consumers trust a software product more if it has negative reviews as well (Capterra). In a study published by Spiegel Research Center, best-selling products have a 4.2-4.7 rating.
  • But also, remember it’s a fine line, as online reviews are among the crucial factors that can inspire a purchase decision. According to a study published by MartechZone, more than four negative reviews about a company or product may decrease sales by 70%.
  • Pay attention to your personal online interactions, especially if you’re using your real personal data, as anybody can use it to start a personal vendetta.
  • Stay true and authentic to your customers and invest in the long-term health of your business. It pays off in the end.

Your turn

What’s your own experience on the subject of fake negative reviews? Has this ever happened to you? How did you react? Share your thoughts in the comments section