The Sunday Times in the UK writes that Yell employees wrote 6,700 reviews for the site (TrustedPlaces) in a month for an internal contest. According to secondary reports:
Staff at the firm’s Reading HQ were encouraged to write reviews for the company’s website Trusted Places – a site boasting user-generated recommendations of places to visit – by the offer of prizes such as an iPad and Amazon vouchers, according to the Sunday Times.
The article and information are presented as something of an expose or scandal. However I don’t necessarily agree. If the reviews are real and authentic they’re not illegitimate in my mind. But it’s a close call…
Well… I’m not sure how 6,700 reviews written by paid staff for some kind of internal contest could be considered “real and authentic.” More importantly, this fuels a not uncommon suspicion that many online reviews are B.S. It’s just too easy to stack the deck with reviews from people who have a stake in the business being reviewed or in the host site itself.
We often hear from people who place a high value on reviews read on Front Porch Forum. They use terms like “real” and “authentic” because that’s what they are… postings from clearly identified nearby neighbors typically offered in response to a request from a neighbor… “can anyone recommend a good plumber?”
Also, each recommendation is seen by everyone in the neighborhood, not just those few who happen to be searching for a plumber. This leads to conversation among neighbors… sometimes on FPF, often via email, and even more commonly face-to-face.
So… a huge database of potentially bogus reviews from strangers… vs. a few reviews from clearly identified nearby neighbors that lead to conversations among neighbors on the sidewalk. Two different propositions.