Fake reviews, likes and followers: How the trust trade works.

Part 3 of our blog series: The flourishing fake reviews and likes business in the race to win over new customers.

Luise Kluge Created by Luise Kluge
on 11/20/2017 | 5 minutes reading time

Finally, after so much waiting, the time has arrived to take that trip you've been planning! The reviews of the hotel you booked promise a relaxing and restorative stay in an oasis of comfort, and your excitement begins to reach immeasurable proportions on the flight over. You hope the formalities of your arrival — customs, baggage, transfer and check-in — will proceed as hastily as possible so you can put your feet up with a good book, get out on the trail or dive into the blue just as quick as you can.

But then things don't quite go as expected. The staff are rude, there's hair on your bed sheets, bugs in the bathroom, and outside your window you're greeted by the worst view you could imagine: a construction site. The hotel you selected because of its shining reviews isn't even remotely close to what was described. So much for those vacation vibes. What's going on here? Are customer reviews simply not reliable anymore?

Taking a closer look at the reviews, you notice user names like „sunshine30“ and „karatekid34.“ Seems strange — if not downright suspicious. Is it possible you were scammed?

We've covered the topic of recognizing fake reviews and what you can do about them in two previous blog posts. We've also featured an interview with specialist attorney Karsten Gulden on fake reviews. This time around, we want to take a closer look at the market for purchased likes, followers and fans.

Marketing services that provide purchased reviews, likes, clicks and comments on social media appear to be growing in popularity across the board among freelancers, big and small companies, influencers and even political parties alike. The German lifestyle blogger Vreni of neverever.me fame recently went on the warpath against the fake social media industry, admitting that she herself had purchased Instagram followers and publicly revealing the wheelings and dealings of the trade. We've taken our own look at the fake reviews, likes and followers trades and broken down the types of reviews and profile tuning available on the market, as well as what it all means from a legal standpoint.

What exactly can you buy?

Essentially, anything. From customer reviews to likes, followers and even comments — everything is up for sale. The sky's the limit. The same goes for the names of the services themselves: „Review“ and „rating management services“ are indeed services, but nothing is being managed, only sold. „Ranking“ and „sales boosting services“, „social media marketing“ — the websites that provide fake services are rife with online marketing buzz words.

„Purchasing reviews provides a way to stop the one-sided flow of negative reviews from dissatisfied customers while happy consumers go about their lives without so much as rating the product or service they enjoyed so much“. This makes it easier for sellers to lure in potential customers. There's no doubt about it — product manufacturers and service providers have to work hard for good reviews. But unhappy customers are much more likely to take the time to leave feedback. A respectable „and appealing reputation,“ however, cannot be purchased. It requires honest and active interaction with customers. Actively collecting customer feedback can reduce the occurrence of negative reviews by up to 77%. Moreover, an internal survey conducted among ProvenExpert customers revealed that just 15 minutes a week of rating and review management can boost revenue — so long as the reviews are authentic. So, purchasing reviews isn't necessary at all.

Fake online marketing services can be booked for both long-term and short-term campaigns. Yet many companies seem to forget that purchased followers can be easily identified on various platforms using recognition tools such as influencerdb.

The blogging scene has also developed its own corresponding network of scam services. Here, „one hand washes the other“ as fake clicks are generated. In the end, this involves a lot of work if you don't want to hand over money.

But if you're willing the pay the price, you can get 100 Facebook likes for €1.90. In some cases, German Facebook pages can have fan bases that are 70% made up of persons from Arab countries. Likes from German accounts come with a higher price: 222 for €39. One thousand Instagram followers cost €6.90; twenty-two German Youtube comments can be purchased for €19. Real „customer reviews on Amazon are a bit pricier.“ Three reviews start at €29.95, and five + five verified reviews come in at a whopping €189.95. It's clear who's really profiting from these sales: „the seller.“.

Fakes likes and followers generate more success? Hardly.

Of course, the question as to the real value of purchased likes and followers is relevant for those in the market. There are various websites which provide metrics on this, and depending on the field, service, seriousness and other factors, companies expect to boost popularity by up to 50% with more likes and followers.

As far as Facebook is concerned, these numbers are only true in some cases, and in most cases they don't apply at all. The more decisive factor in Facebook success is content reach. This means that getting more likes and followers only pays off if your status updates show up on those users' newsfeeds. The Facebook algorithm filters content in order to only show users posts which are relevant to them. Purchased followers may give the appearance of increased popularity, but only real users and fans actually interact with Facebook posts. In the end, fake fans actually hurt your page's engagement rating. Having a lot of inactive (purchased) users causes the Facebook algorithm to classify your page as less relevant, which makes it harder to show up in the newsfeeds of real fans. The algorithms used by Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and others work in similar ways, and those are guarded better than Fort Knox. Having posts shown to purchased fans who don't even live where the company conducts its business; don't have lifestyle habits which are relevant to the product or service; and never interact with posts is of no value to companies. The likelihood of true fans profiting from the information contained in social media posts drops. So, the page may have more purchased „fans“, but is less relevant as a result.

Customer reviews: honesty pays

When it comes to customer reviews, trust and authenticity are king. If customers don't see that a company has at least some negative reviews, 95 percent of them assume the reviews are fake or censored. Not only are negative reviews the most-clicked content on websites, they're actually clicked on three times as much as the „reviews which have been declared "most helpful" by other“ customers. As it turns out, 4.5 out of 5 stars is a more believable situation than 5 out of 5. And the reason is clear: customers know that everything that shines isn't gold. Moreover, no company or product is able to please each and every consumer. People and their needs are simply too varied for it to be any other way.

And that's perfectly fine — businesses that understand the importance of customer feedback for marketing purposes know how to deal with negative feedback. Responding professionally to a negative comment or review, as well as showing the customer respect, can help clear up misunderstandings and turn critics into true fans. Profession responses to critical feedback can, therefore, give a company's image a significant boost.

What happens when people buy reviews or likes?

First of all, reviews on ProvenExpert are technically and editorially reviewed. If we find fake reviews, we delete them. Sellers of fake reviews are formally warned and, if necessary, removed from the platform. This goes for service providers, too, that offer fake reviews for sale.

And by the way: sellers of fake reviews and likes generally don't accept liability for the services they offer. This means the profile owner is always responsible if they choose to use the service.

YouTube has also taken a stance on fake comments and subscriptions, and, as a YouTube user, it's worth having a look at the article. YouTube has also stated that selling views is expressly forbidden and that videos that receive fake views will be removed.

But can you really recognize fakes?

Tip:We've put together information about how to recognize fake reviews here.

There are actually countless fake likes/fake follower checks. However, it's hard to say how effective they are, since they only show features such as the country of origin or the time of creation for clicks. Also, rapid changes could simply be the result of new links or campaigns, so it isn't always as easy as it seems to tell what's what. It is, however, worth taking a look at the list of fans and followers. Inconsistencies are typically fairly easy to recognize.

The conclusion: fake reviews are not a key to success.

Customer reviews only have a positive effect when they're make by genuine customers. If your product or service does not correspond to your reviews, you won't be able to win customers over long term. We optimize our quality checks on a regular basis. The fake review market is shifting due to the high security hurdles put up by platforms and savvy consumers. Consumers today are much more aware of the topic of fake reviews and are in a much better position to recognize inauthentic feedback. Time and again fake followers and fans are discovered, resulting in a PR catastrophe for the accused. After all, we all know that lies don't travel far.

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