Not everyone reviewing your business has the best intentions. If you’re not regularly monitoring your online reputation, you could get burned by fake reviews.
Fake news is one of the biggest buzzwords of the past two years. How you define fake news, of course, depends somewhat on your perspective.
To some, it’s literally that—”news” that isn’t actually legitimate news at all. (In other words, it’s deliberately false or misleading.) To others, it’s a label you slap on any news that makes you look bad.
We mention fake news because today we’re talking about fake reviews, which actually have a lot in common with fake news—but only the first definition.
Here’s what we mean: Your home improvement business might get hit with negative reviews you consider poorly reasoned or otherwise unfair, but as long as actual customers of yours honestly conveyed their feelings about the work you did, those aren’t fake reviews.
Fake reviews are literally fake—illegitimate, intentionally harmful reviews left by people who are not actually your customers.
The most loathsome form of this activity occurs when a local competitor leaves one-star reviews of your business as a tactic to make you look bad by comparison. While this is not necessarily a pervasive problem, you should be ready if it happens.
Another circumstance is when people leave fake reviews as a perverse form of social justice.
For example, if the owner of a pizza shop makes headlines on social media for some action people perceive as negative, people from all over the country might start hammering the business with negative reviews—even though they obviously have never stepped foot in the establishment.
Overly zealous fans of some sports teams have shredded businesses affiliated with their rivals. And let’s not even get started on politics, which has led to all sorts of ridiculousness.
(By the way, there’s also a third group of fake reviews—the fake positive ones a business either leaves for itself or pays people to create for it. But that’s a different situation, so we’ll get back to it at the end.)
In any case, fake reviews are blatantly inappropriate and unethical. We certainly hope you never have to deal with anyone smearing your business this way, but you must be ready for it.
The number one way to protect yourself is to consistently monitor your online reputation. You need to stay on top of all the platforms where your home improvement business is being reviewed.
It’s also a good idea to set up Google Alerts for your business. These simple (and free) tools often notify you when your business is cited online—such as in news stories, blog posts, or social media.
Much like an infection in your body, if you’re not aware of fake reviews being left for your business, you can’t treat the problem—and the longer that goes on, the worse it gets.
Here are a few things you can do:
1. Report (aka “flag”) the fake review(s) to the platform itself (e.g., Yelp, Google, Facebook). This isn’t always effective, because the platforms deal with thousands of these issues just in any given week, but it’s worth a shot. If the platform can determine there’s an intentional campaign to smear your business, it might remove some or all reviews that appear to be part of the issue.
2. Respond publicly with a comment. Never adopt a negative or angry tone, even if you’re sure the review is fake, but you can reply with reason and logic. If there’s something clearly factually inaccurate in the review, point that out. If the reviewer name doesn’t match any customer in your records, address that too.
3. Review the platform’s policies and support options. All major platforms have information on what they consider illegitimate reviews. Make sure you understand these policies and be prepared to cite which ones were violated when communicating with the platform.
Finally, we said we’d come back to fake positive reviews. We’ll presume you would never attempt such a thing because it’s obviously unethical. But just in case, be advised that if a platform can penalize businesses severely for this, and in certain states, you could even be sued. So don’t do it.
If you believe a competitor is generating fake reviews for his or her own business, you could try reporting the behavior to the relevant platforms, but that’s not commonly very effective.
It’s typically better to simply focus on generating great reviews for your own business and hoping the platform catches on to your unethical competitor.
(Note: Monitoring your business’s online reputation is a requirement for success in the digital age. Try our free Review Scan now for an instant reputation report on your business.)