Online reviews are mixed bag

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By Matt Bentley

Online reviews can be a handy form of reference. Do you need a quick estimate on whether a given product or service is going to be useful to you? Not only are online reviews painless to fill out, they also provide useful information to others.

At their best, they’re an extension of genuine human altruism. At their worst, they spiral into negative, abusive spaces which harm not only consumers but the businesses themselves. Let’s look at the two ways this happens.

If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many Indian music videos in the “trending” section of YouTube, it’s not because somehow the western world has suddenly grasped an imminent need for modern Bollywood-style songs. It’s because India has thousands of so-called ‘click-farms’ with people, or automated bots, clicking on and listening to/watching the videos which they are paid to promote. These services are so ubiquitous you’ll even find them in articles about how to promote your videos.

The same thing happens for all online services and products. It doesn’t cost much for a company to, say, get 15 paid positive reviews of a product from anonymised locations, nor does it cost much more to get 1500 views for a given video. The ubiquity and anonymity of online reviews also make them easily manipulable by corporate and non-corporate entities – meaning that, although an Amazon product which averages 1 star is generally worth noting, mostly you can’t entirely trust star ratings.

Thoughtful man
Online reviews deliver a mixed bag of useful and … not so much [Photo: Bermix Studio]

Negative ratings can also be an easy abuse. Say you’ve offended someone on social media. If whoever you’ve offended is well-known, it doesn’t take much for them to trigger a ‘review bomb’ of your product or service – largely from people who’ve never used it. This recently happened with a video game which contained some minor elements of parody toward the Chinese government. Of course, most of us aren’t going to be targeted by the Chinese government, but we can still be targeted by other random malcontents.

I recently had a negative Google review from someone who wasn’t a client, but was a little bit far gone, had shown up onsite at the factory complex and was harassing folk. I had to be stern with them to get them to leave, so they noted my business name and left a negative Google review. Given that I’d only had one review beforehand, this skewed the results somewhat!

Should you be worried about reviews for your business? Aside from perhaps not aggravating people on social media, and making sure you have enough positive reviews to survive a backlash should you get bad actors – probably not. Just be aware that an online review is only as reliable as the people who leave it, and those are not guaranteed to be real. Just sayin’.

  • Matt Bentley is the computer repair guy at Bentley Home PC Support. Want to get your computer fixed or leave a review? Google ‘Bentley Home PC support’ or phone Matt on 0211348576.

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