- Review websites are either Industry Specific or Multi Area.
- They create an image of a service for the public good.
- In fact, they are commercial enterprises, they are not altruistic.
- Their stock-in-trade is YOUR reputation, and it's free of charge
- Review websites often claim to have a right to publish without responsibility for content. This claim is false; they are the publishers and often the editors of the posts and therefore are liable to you for defamation.
Review websites are either industry specific or are categorised into various sectors. Special care and attention should be given to the former for the conflict of interest issues that can arise, notably if the website owner also operates commercially within the sector.
These sites are pure commercial enterprises. Despite all their altruistic froth about being there to help protect the little swimmer from the circling sharks, this is just marketing hype.
Remember, these sites are there to make money, their stock-in-trade is your reputation and it’s free of charge.
Anonymity of Reviews
Not all review sites will require a reviewer to register with them by providing an email address and a username. Even those that do will rarely seek verification of that email address. And, of course, we all know that an email address can be obtained without any identification. This renders review site users, for all intents and purposes, anonymous and quite possibly untraceable. If you wished to build a system that would prevent review fraud or other abuse, this would probably be the worst foundation to build it upon. If this wasn't bad enough...
Authenticity of Reviews
With very few exceptions, such as Expedia, review sites make little or no effort to verify if a review is authentic. A few review sites provide information 'fields' for the reviewer to place a unique indentifier such as a job number or invoice number, however, these are never mandatory. We accept this would be impractical for transactions such as restaurants (currently leading the charge in review fraud!), but the same cannot be said for most market sectors. This clearly demonstrates the cavalier approach adopted by these sites with your reputation. It would not take very much effort on their part to push this to the front and centre when reviews are being created and encourage users to complete these sections fully. This would give a properly completed review much more credibility and at the same time cast justifiable doubt on those who insist upon remaining in the shadows.
Legality of Reviews
Reviewers must agree to a set of terms and conditions which usually include agreeing, amongst other things, not to write anything defamatory. Unfortunately, it is clear that the vast majority of reviewers have no idea what constitutes defamation (calling people a "bunch of crooks" is surprisingly common!) The site operators often attempt to disclaim liability by virtue of the reviewers declaration. They may believe this protects them; they are wrong. The review site is, in fact, publishing whatever the reviewers write and are liable in law for any defamation contained therein.
It must be said that the majority of reviews are honest. However, a growing number are malicious and bear little or no relation to a fair, balanced and honest appraisal of their experience with the company they are writing about. As a result, the occurrences of organisations being seriously defamed is increasing sharply.
Going forward, more people will become aware of their existence, usefulness and power in the decision making process by potential customers. Review sites will not only be seen for what they ostensibly are, a reactive post dealings report, but also for what they could become if used pro-actively, as a pre-dealings influencer. This is a powerful commercial weapon in the business world jungle.
Review sites are currently being used by a relatively small number of consumers but the frequency of use, and abuse, is growing rapidly. It is difficult to predict how this will play out over time but proper attention should be given to this arena as things could become very unpleasant indeed for those organisations that fail to monitor their current consumer review status.
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