The Apartment Review Question: To Fake or Not to Fake?

 

In this day and age of social media and online reviews, the temptation to defend your brand’s reputation (in our case, our apartment community or property management company reputations) by posting anonymous, self-serving reviews has increased. According to Gartner, a technology research firm, an estimated 10-15% of online reviews will be fake or paid for by 2014.

In fact, did you know that instead of actually writing these types of apartment reviews yourself, it’s easy to hire a marketing or SEO firm to write these reviews and post on multiple review sites? Don’t want to be that obvious? Don’t fret; there are other ways to post those reviews – just ask your employees or seek out individuals on Craig’s List, FreeLancer.com, etc. In fact, I saw this recent advertisement recruiting online posters:

“We need a person that can post multiple positive reviews on major REVIEW sites. Example: Google Maps, Yelp, CitySearch. Must be from different IP addresses… So you must be able to have multiple IPs. The reviews will be only few sentences long. Need to have some understanding on how Yelp filters works. Previous experience is a plus…just apply — we are a marketing company.”

Online Apartment Reviews Impact the Buying Decision

Consumer reviews have become a powerful way to influence the conversation and, ultimately, impact the buying decision. In fact, as reported by BazaarVoice, consumers have 12x more trust in consumer recommendations than brand generated marketing messaging. Seventy eight percent of consumers regularly or occasionally use online reviews to determine what local business to use. And then there is Gen Y – 84 million strong – growing up on technology. Half of Gen Y trusts the opinions of strangers online over those of friends and family. When you think about it, these are some staggering statistics as it relates to business and the consumer’s buying decision.

Our prospects are relying more and more on apartment reviews as part of their decision-making process. So the thought of posting a fake apartment review is very appealing. And why not? Who will know? What harm will it do? After all, a lot of the online posts are inaccurate anyway so why can’t we play the game the same way? If this is your mindset (let’s be honest, it has crossed your mind), you might want to think again.

Thinking of leaving a fake review? Think again.

Thinking of leaving a fake apartment review? Think again.

 

Fake Reviews are Against the Law

Producing fake reviews violates several state laws. In fact, writing fake/bogus reviews (whether you do it yourself, ask someone to do it, or pay for it), is considered false advertising, illegal and a deceptive business practice. Just recently, New York State regulators announced they are enforcing the law and after a year-long investigation, they cited 19 companies for posting bogus reviews. Collectively, these companies were required to pay $350,000 in fines and cease posting these fake reviews.

In another recent case, Samsung was fined $340,000 by the Taiwan Fair Trade Commission. They were cited for not only posting false reviews on their own products but also for writing negative reviews of their competitors, highlighting product flaws.

In addition to these very recent examples, companies like Edmunds.com are taking a proactive approach, protecting themselves from this latest rage of fake reviews. Edmunds.com settled a lawsuit against their Texas marketing firm for creating 2,000+ fake accounts and posting 76 fake reviews on their website. The CEO of Edmunds.com, Seth Berkowitz, felt their actions against the marketing firm were a win for Edmunds customers (car shoppers and dealers alike), stating the following:

“This is undoubtedly a victory not just for the millions of online users who rely on dealership reviews and ratings from fellow car shoppers, but also for the thousands of honest dealers who embrace authentic customer feedback. We will continue to hand screen every review submitted to our site, and we will not hesitate to push back against anyone who tries to compromise the terms of our user agreements.”

Who would have thought that online reviews could play such a factor in the consumer’s buying decision that companies would resort to cheating with fake reviews to protect their reputation, or that the problem would become so immense that the government would be prosecuting companies for these deceptive business practices.

Let’s assume your company would never knowingly participate in this type of behavior. But what if your property manager is desperate to defend the reputation of the apartment community and resorts to posting false apartment reviews? Knowingly or not, your company is at risk for deceptive business practice.

Four Tips for Recognizing False Apartment Reviews

What you can do to recognize if bogus apartment reviews are being posted to your property and/or company website:

  1. Pay attention to review postings. Are reviews being posted in “bulk”, around the same time or on the same day? Do the reviews have a tendency to slant toward only positive or only negative? What are the profiles of the reviewers?
  2. Watch out for the lingo of the review. Does the review have a marketing flair? Does it sound like an ad? Or does it contain industry jargon? Does the review contain language that we would use versus the terms a customer would use?
  3. Beware of exaggerated one-sided apartment reviews. What is being said? Is it believable? The best reviews are objective and provide constructive feedback, including the pros and cons.
  4. Assess actual review content. Is the review written in all CAPS? Does it have a lot of profanity? Exclamation points? What about the grammar and spelling? Reviews that are poorly constructed do not lend credibility to anyone.

While all of these suggestions for recognizing a fake apartment review are obvious, the point comes down to taking the proper actions as a company to ensure the information that is being posted about your business is legit and not some marketing ploy to boast ratings and reviews that have been falsified. Some apartment ratings and review sites, as well as Yelp and Google, have sophisticated technology in place to manage fraudulent reviews.

What are you doing as a property management company to prevent your apartment properties from being victims of bogus reviews? Do you have any tips to share for recognizing false reviews?

 

Image Credits: iStock

 

 


President and Owner, Ellis Partners in Mystery Shopping

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Joanna Ellis is CEO and Owner of Ellis Partners in Management Solutions (EPMS) and Co-owner of Renter’s Voice. Under her direction, Ellis has established itself as the premier apartment mystery shopping company in the nation, as well as a respected provider of multi-touch point resident surveys, as part of their retention-focused customer experience program. Current clients include most major apartment developers, management companies, and REITs. Through Renter’s Voice, Ellis helps clients promote and respond to authentic and objective apartment reviews. Having earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business from Texas A&M, Ms. Ellis has spent more than 25 years in the multifamily industry, and she now holds both the Certified Apartment Manager (CAM) and Certified Apartment Property Supervisor (CAPS). She is also a licensed Texas Real Estate Agent. In honor of EPMS’ reputation for integrity, the Dallas Chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals awarded Joanna, on behalf of the company, the 2008 Greater Dallas Business Ethics Award for mid-size companies.

7 responses to “The Apartment Review Question: To Fake or Not to Fake?”

  1. Thanks for a very well-researched and thought provoking piece. I think that you will see more properties taking an Amazon-like approach where they provide an incentive (in Amazon’s case, free goods) for posting a positive review. The disclosure of “paid” reviews by Amazon did not seem to harm them in the least (although I no longer trust their reviews quite as much).

    • Joanna Ellis says:

      Hi John – Thank you for your comments and for also sharing the information on Amazon. I had recently attended a seminar that talked about the requirement to publicly disclose “paid” reviews – all in an effort to abide by the laws. But I agree, it diminishes the creditability of the review.

  2. Ann Weis says:

    I am a community manager in Arizona. Our Apartment Community rated #1 in 2012 on one of the more popular apartment rating sites. We were very proud of that and are striving for that honor again in 2013. Our reviews are genuine and certainly not fake. Our team works hard to provide service that leave people wanting to let other people know about our community. It would be very disappointing to a hard working team earning those positive reviews if communities that use fake reviews to sway prospective residents decisions on where to live. Fake reviews are bad!

    • Joanna Ellis says:

      Hi Ann – Thank you for your comments and for the efforts of you and your team to work hard to earn those well deserved reviews. You approach is the only way to gain the respect of your residents and to create ambassadors for your community. It’s all about meeting the expectations of your customers and living up to the commitments. It’s not difficult! Job well done – keep it up!

  3. Andreas says:

    HI Joanna,
    This is a really nice blog. I am currently encouraging a lot of my customers to start pushing more for Google reviews. A lot of my clients are based in the UK and by simply asking for reviews they can have their property business really push up Google Local search results.

    What I like about Google is you now must sign in to leave a review. I think this helps a visitor check its authenticity.

    • Joanna Ellis says:

      Hi Andreas – Thanks for your comments, and I am glad you enjoyed the blog. I agree with your comment that it is important to ask for authentic reviews from customers and over time, those reviews can help with search. More importantly, those reviews can help to influence the decision of the online consumer as long as the information is objective. Thanks again for reading the blog!

  4. Red says:

    Interesting. The apartment complex where I used to live was horrible at the end to me and some others. They had nothing but negative reviews. I saw that one day someone posted something negative and the next there was something positive. Just the last two days, there were two positive reviews. I know those reviews are being faked. Is there a law in Florida that covers this?

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