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Fake Web Reviews an Issue

November 2007
According to a recently completed study by Burson-Marsteller, a growing number of consumers think that fake product reviews on Web sites or community forums, or positive comments added by corporations, are a problem, and 30 percent say they are a big problem. This issue of creating a fake buzz online through the use of “placed” product reviews or company-written blogs is hurting what had been considered a reliable online buying resource for consumers - peer product reviews. Several companies have been called out recently for attempts to create this fabricated buzz online, including Wal-Mart, which recently created a fake blog promoting a variety of the chain’s products.

The study surveyed what they felt were the most influential consumers - those who are likely to recommend products to friends and family - and claimed many are now are now growing skeptical of the opinions they find on product review sites and community forums. The survey asked 1,000 of what they termed “e-fluentials” on their trust of online reviews. The study claims that compared to a similar poll conducted five years ago, an increasing number of consumers believed that fake reviews or positive comments left by corporations are a problem. About 30% said this is a big problem, compared with 20% in 2001. The study also revealed that 57% percent of these “e-fluentials” said they “would be less likely to buy a product if they suspected the company paid someone to write a positive review on an opinion site.”

“There’s now a skepticism of what is happening online and an expectation that if you’re in a community site and a commercial entity is being discussed, there’s someone paid to be weighing in,” said Ame Wadler, a chief strategic officer at Burson.

The study also sites that several major corporations have simply made some missteps in recent months in an attempt to tap into the power of WOM and online buzz. The aforementioned Wal-Mart fake blog drew heavy fire last year and Microsoft was also recently criticized for sending bloggers free laptops to test Microsoft software.

In further defining the “e-fluentials” that participated in their survey, Burson cited that these consumers typically speak to 50% more people per day and are more likely to share opinions and experiences with others during their daily lives.
 

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