Online Reviews: Between Authentic Feedback and Manipulated Ratings

Published on October 9, 2023

Online reviews suck. I know, plenty of people out there have found them helpful. There was a time in the Internet’s brief history when they were essential to the buying experience, whether for a simple trinket online or a B2B product or service. Over time, though, the well has been poisoned. 

You probably know the fallacies of a lot of the major review sites, but even I was surprised when I learned how manipulative the whole ecosystem has gotten. I’m not saying every online review out there is bogus, but there are a lot of reasons to approach them with several grains of salt. 

Employee Reviews 

Plenty of companies resort to underhanded tactics like pressuring or even coercing their own employees into writing glowing reviews for their products or services. This unethical practice doesn’t just undermine the credibility of online reviews, but it also paints a misleading picture of the real experience with the product or service. These reviews, often overly positive, lack authenticity and critical assessment, as they are crafted more to appease management rather than provide genuine feedback to prospective customers. 

They add noise to the review landscape, making it challenging for potential buyers to discern the true quality and effectiveness of the product or service in question. It’s always a good rule of thumb to approach reviews with a discerning eye and look for signs of authenticity, such as detailed descriptions of personal experiences or balanced perspectives that highlight both strengths and areas for improvement.

Unverified Purchases and “Verified” Reviews 

Some review platforms allow anyone to leave a review, regardless of whether they’ve actually purchased or used the product or service. Of course these reviews are less reliable because they’re not based on any real experience.

Even “verified” reviews like what you often see on Amazon can be sketchy! Some companies play the system by buying their own products and leaving rave reviews. Or they might send freebies in return for a “verified” review. So, while these reviews technically check the verified box, they can seriously mislead shoppers. Bottom line? Even with verified reviews, keep your detective hat on and look for consistent and detailed feedback to judge if they’re legit.

Outdated Reviews 

Online reviews can quickly become outdated, especially for tech products or services that are frequently updated. A negative review from several years ago might no longer be applicable if the company has made significant improvements since then.

Incentivized Reviews 

Some companies offer incentives for customers to write reviews, such as discounts or freebies. While this isn’t necessarily against the rules (in most cases), it can lead to more positive reviews than a product or service might otherwise earn. 

Missing Reviews 

As you probably know by now, there are far too many businesses out there that specialize in sprucing up a brand’s online reputation. They get paid a flat fee or on a per-result basis to scrub away those pesky bad reviews from platforms like Yelp, Google, or Glassdoor. By using their connections and financial clout, they can make a company appear way shinier online than it might be in reality. So, remember, not all that glitters on the internet is gold!

I’m not saying you should look for companies with bad reviews, but at least those companies aren’t doing sketchy stuff like hiring people to work in the shadows and remove everything negative ever said about them. 

Online Reviews are the Underbelly of the Internet 

the world of online reviews can be a murky one, filled with manipulated ratings and deceptive practices. While they can provide valuable insights, it’s crucial to approach them with a healthy dose of skepticism. Some companies game the system with fake positive reviews, while others hire professionals to scrub away the negative ones. This can paint a picture that’s far from reality, misleading consumers and creating false perceptions. So, always remember to do your own due diligence, look beyond the star ratings, and consider multiple sources before making a decision based on online reviews. After all, not everything that shines on the internet is as golden as it appears!

CEO & Founder Erik Huberman is a member of Grit Daily's Leadership Network. He launched Hawke Media in 2014, which is now valued at over $150 million. As a serial entrepreneur and marketing expert, Erik has been recognized by his industry peers through honors and awards including, Forbes Magazine’s 30Under30, CSQ’s 40Under40, and Inc. Magazine’s Top 25 Marketing Influencers.

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