Online reviews have a massive impact on consumer behaviour. Think about it, how likely are you to buy a product on Amazon if the item in question has dozens of one star reviews?
Unlikely, I’d wager. Conversely, seeing a swathe of 5 star reviews for a novel, a coffee machine or whatever else it is you’re thinking about buying gives you greater confidence, reassurance and trust that it will be a worthwhile purchase.
The fact is, 9 out of 10 consumers now read online reviews. Moreover, about 84% of them will trust them to the same degree as a personal recommendation.
In our work helping IFAs, wealth managers and financial planners financial marketing, we are find that more and more are increasingly the impact of online reviews on their brand. After all, no one wants a potential client to Google their business, only for them to find a glaring one star review.
However, just as every financial company now needs to be mindful of reviewers’ impact on their prospects’ behaviour, IFAs and others must also be mindful of the dangers of fraudulent sentiment. Otherwise known as “review spam.”
“Review Spam” – What Is It?
Essentially, it’s a fake review left on a communication channel where your prospects might see it. So it could be a review left on your Facebook company page, your Google page, TrustPilot or somewhere else.
The review misrepresents the relationship between the reviewer and your business. Or, the review violates a principle, guideline or rule. For example:
- The reviewer is one of your competitors. They are trying to undermine your brand and financial marketing, hurting you and trying to help him or herself out in the process.
- The person concerned is actually the owner of your business, an employee of the company, or a marketing partner of the brand. Here, the reviewer is trying to manipulate public opinion via false positive sentiment.
- The reviewer was never a customer or client of yours. He or she is pretending that they were, in order to harm your brand, for whatever deeper reason.
- The reviewer did have a transaction or relationship with you, but the details or account they are providing are not correct. They are misrepresenting the actual truth in order to harm your company.
- The reviewer was given some incentive to write the review; perhaps a monetary reward. The review is therefore biased and unreliable for other users. For all intents and purposes, it is therefore a fake review.
- The review concerned somehow breaks one or more of the platform’s guidelines or rules. Hate speech and personal attacks often come under this category.
In cases such as these, the review concerned should be reported and removed.
What A Fake Review Isn’t
Important to qualify the above by stating what a fake review is not. For example, a review is not spam if:
- The review follows and/or adheres to the platform’s guidelines and policies.
- The review is left by a genuine past or present customer/client who had a transaction with your business.
- The reviewer’s account of their transaction with you is broadly true, if somewhat subjective.
It is tempting in financial marketing to view negative reviews as spam in themselves. However, this isn’t the case.
It might be awkward and difficult for us to read that we didn’t provide a clear idea of our pricing. That we didn’t fill out a form correctly. That we took longer than expected to get the work done. They the quality of the work we provided wasn’t up to standard. However, if these things actually happened, it’s not a fake review.
Financial marketing does, however, enter grey areas here. Your business’s opinion about a particular transaction might differ markedly from the consumer’s. They might feel the work wasn’t up to standard, but you might feel that you provided a high quality service and the customer had unreasonable expectations.
Why Do People Write Review Spam To Undermine Financial Marketing?
The motivations of individuals and businesses for writing review spam are complex, unpleasant and varied:
- Extortion/blackmail. Some people just want something for free, and will go to horrible depths of depravity in order to get it. Read this unfortunate account here of one business who was inundated with 1-star reviews by a spammer, who then demanded money from the business to raise them to 5 star reviews.
- Protest/punishment. This is probably unlikely to happen to you as a small, local IFA. However, some larger financial companies and institutions can be vulnerable to widespread public anger or protest. It can happen to smaller businesses too, however. Remember the US dentist who killed a lion and caused public outrage?
Cecil the Lion
- Revenge. The former employee who vents his anger on public forums and review sites is a common one here. Sometimes, even unhappy spouses, partners or other personal relationships can produce fake reviews too.
- Wages. Unfortunately, some people make their living out of posting fake reviews. Mike Blumenthal, a specialist in local SEO, has been doing some interesting innovative research here on this disturbing new industry.
- Rank manipulation. Presently, your Google rankings can be positively impacted by the total review count of your business. This is regardless of the quality or content of the reviews themselves. Hopefully this will be sorted out by Google and other platforms soon, as this can lead business owners to review themselves, get their employees to review the business, and/or employ financial marketing partners who will elicit multiple fake reviews for their Google My Business page.
How to Spot A Spam Review
Here are some quick tips for your financial marketing’s arsenal. Use them to identify reviews of your own business, or those of a competitor:
- Odd language. Keep a lookout for odd turns of phrase, or over-adulation.
- Location, location, location. Has the reviewer been in multiple places at once? Do they follow a pattern of giving 1 star reviews to one business, whilst giving 5 star reviews to the business’s competitor?
- Timing. Did your competitor suddenly jump from 0 reviews to 20, 30 or more? Unless they’ve gone on some kind of national PR campaign, chances are this is a concerted effort.
- Quantities. Does the scale of reviews for a particular business seem disproportionate to its size? If a small local IFA has as many/more reviews as a national IFA brand, then that’s a bit odd.
- Threats. If your company is threatened by a negative review for extortionate purposes, document everything you possibly can. Take it seriously.
- Odd claims or “facts”. Neither you nor your staff can recall the client or prospect in question. Nor can the transaction be recalled by anyone in the way the reviewer has described it.
Steps To Take If Your Financial Marketing Is Hit By Review Spam
Once you are fairly certain you have been the victim of fake spam, there are some practical steps you can take to stop it further undermining your financial marketing.
Here are 3 prominent review platforms, along with tips and links for each:
Mouse over the particular review in question, and click the flag symbol which appears. Enter your email address and choose a radio button. If you are the business owner, you can use the owner response function. This mentions that you have told Google about the particular incident, and have reported it for guideline violations. After this, get in touch with Google My Business support using Twitter, and outline your case on the GMB forum. Pray!
To report a review which does not meet Facebook’s guidelines, see their instructions here. Bear in mind that you can’t report solo ratings. You can only report reviews with text.
Since 2016, TripAdvisor reviews have been sitting alongside YP internal reviews. In financial marketing, the latter review type will be most pertinent to you. If a fake review stems from a YP review, click on the Flag link (lower right of the review). Fill out the form, outlining the reasons for flagging.
Phil Teale is the Sales & Marketing Manager at MarketingAdviser, an agency specialising in marketing for financial services – and especially for financial advisers. Along with our sister company, CreativeAdviser, we also provide bespoke website design, branding, graphic design and video production services to financial clients.
Contact us on 01923 232840 or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org