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Review-Swapping is Not Only Wrong – It’s Ineffective!

Jul 17

If your business is on Yelp, you have probably already figured out that review sites hold a lot of weight for potential customers when they’re deciding where to do business.

We’ve all heard the success stories about businesses that blow up after word spreads online, and we hope ours will be the same.

But when you finally get up the courage to put your business out there, waiting for the masses to confirm your worth, and you fail to receive any reviews on your profile, it can feel pretty lonely. Maybe you even start to panic. People will think I run a poor business.

So, many of us do the only thing we know how to do in those situations: we ask our friends for help. No doubt every business owner has been guilty at one point or another of asking a buddy for a ‘testimonial’ about their work.

Recently, a networking group called South Bay BNI got busted for creating a ‘review-swapping ring’ where they all reviewed each other’s businesses. 5-Stars, of course. And although some of them had legitimately used each other’s services, the reviews were not the by-product of a fabulous customer experience, but instead, an effort to boost each other’s ratings and help out the group as a whole.

In this case, Yelp discovered their plan and shut them down – all the reviews were deleted.

But what if they had gotten away with it? What if they had all achieved a dozen 5-Star reviews on their profiles. Is that social media success?

Absolutely not.

The average review site reader is a savvy customer.  And, just like you and I, they can see through a phony review from a mile away.

Sometimes, when I’m reading a review on Yelp, I check out the other reviews written by that user, to determine if he/she has the same taste that I do.

Imagine clicking on a few reviewers, only to discover that they have all reviewed the same group of businesses. None of those reviews – or reviewers – is going to hold my attention anymore.

Now, put your consumer hat on. When you look up a business on Yelp (or Trip Advisor, Yahoo or even Facebook) and that review has a long list of 5-Star, over-the-top glowing reviews, do you think: this is the world’s most perfect business! Or does it seem a little fishy? I’m willing to bet you’re skeptical. And you should be. No business can make everyone happy 100% of the time.

And the good news is, we don’t expect you to.

What most consumers want to see is a business that responds to reviews (especially the negative ones), treats all reviewers with respect, and solves problems for their customers.

Demonstrating that kind of customer service – listening, responding, and smoothing things over – can do more for your review site profile (and your business) than all the Stars in the world.


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Katie is President of Katie Wagner Social Media. Before opening the agency, she spent more than 15 years as a journalist, working for CBS, ABC, Fox, CNN and National Public Radio. Katie works with clients across the country and is a popular public speaker.

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2 Comment to “Review-Swapping is Not Only Wrong – It’s Ineffective!”

  1. Hi Katie
    I have been reading some of your work and I would like to introduce myself . My name is Michael Larson and I am building a stand a lone premium Social Media review site that is built on honor and integrity. I have a site right now that we have been building as a test site to help businesses maintain their social presence and run a transparent accountability business model. I would like to invite you to check us out at please let me know what you think. Keep up the great writings ok.

    Mar 25, 2013
  2. Thanks for the kind words, Michael. Good luck with the new site – we will check it out!

    Mar 26, 2013

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