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What to do when reviewers exaggerate?

Exaggerated reviews can hurt a brand since retailers depend on word-of-mouth as a marketing strategy. Certain behavioural traits drive the tendency to leave both good and bad exaggerated reviews. Retailers and marketers can consider these traits while developing strategies and algorithms to identify fake reviews and take action. They can also proactively encourage users to write factually accurate reviews.

Online reviews can make or break a brand in today’s age of new media. However, a rising trend is the tendency of customers to exaggerate both good and bad experiences on social

media or review sites. Exaggeration refers to the intentional overstating of information to misrepresent the brand experience. Because existing and potential customers rely on reviews to make purchase decisions, negative exaggerations can hurt brands directly. In contrast, positive exaggerations can lead to a loss of credibility in the long run. A study investigates the psychological basis of exaggerated reviews to answer the question: How can firms identify and tackle inaccurate reviews?

<You can find out more about utilising positive reviews here: What to do with positive reviews?>

The study found that certain personality traits affect a person’s choice to exaggerate when

sharing their brand experience with others. Known as the dark triad, these traits are psychopathy (high impulsivity, low empathy), narcissism (being self-centred and egotistical), and Machiavellianism (manipulating others for personal gain). These traits cause various deviant behaviours like workplace counterproductive behaviour, toxic leadership, bullying, and even criminal behaviour.

Interestingly, high levels of Machiavellianism (which is centred on manipulativeness,

callousness, and indifference to morality) are associated with all forms of exaggerated reviews, possibly because fake reviews involve manipulation. High levels of narcissism can drive exaggerated reviews of products and exaggerated positive reviews of services, as such reviews boost the reviewer’s self-esteem. Psychopathy is associated only with exaggerated negative reviews of services.

The other factor that drives exaggeration in reviews is moral disengagement, which refers to

the belief that ethical standards do not apply to oneself in a particular context. It is a defence mechanism people use when indulging in behaviour that boosts their self-importance but that they “know” to be unethical. It allows them to rationalise their actions even when they know that they are essentially lying about their experience.

<To read more about the impact of negative reviews, you can check out Negative reviews: Is there a solution?>

The study also provides suggestions to firms and managers for tackling exaggerated reviews

based on these psychological factors. One solution is for retailers to develop techniques to identify fake reviews from genuine ones. For example, Amazon has “Verified Purchase” reviews that ensure a person can post a review only if they have purchased a product. Retailers can also enable a mechanism allowing other customers to report any fake or inaccurate reviews they notice. This feature is similar to the “report post” feature on some social media sites.

Third-party sites can also be used to identify fake reviews. These sites employ algorithms to

identify exaggerated reviews by analysing the language and purchase history of the reviewer. For example, Yelp’s “Ghost” algorithm identifies reviews in which a restaurant has asked or incentivised a customer to leave a positive review. It then places the review in Yelp’s “not recommended” section.

Retailers can employ social listening strategies to identify individuals engaging in

manipulative behaviour about their brands or products on social media. They can also identify such reviewers by looking for users who leave multiple exaggerated negative reviews. Users with the dark triad personality traits or moral disengagement can further be identified through periodic surveys of customers. Identifying and removing such reviewers for policy violations can help to protect the brand and retailer.

To be proactive, retailers can clearly mention in their terms of service that reviews should be

“real”, “not exaggerated or falsified”, and “based on actual experience”. Requiring photos or other forms of support for reviews can also help. Finally, retailers can humanise the platform by putting a face to it. Humanising reduces moral disengagement and encourages people to be more honest in evaluating their brand experiences. Using the findings of the study to target the root cause of exaggerated reviews can have a stronger impact by improving the overall credibility and robustness of firms’ review platforms.

<This post will give you more information about how retailers can harness reviews better: Online advertisement focus: sales volume or reviews?>

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