The Sound of One Hand Claquing

The opinion of others is often important when choosing a product – be it a restaurant, a dentist or a pair of running shoes. Social media have further amplified the reach of such opinion. There are dedicated review sites such as Yelp, Zagat, Angie’s List or TripAdvisor; but reviews are now common elsewhere such as on shopping sites..

Search for products on Amazon, REI and LLBean and you’ll find ratings and reviews. Even retail store focused merchants such as Target and Walmart now have online product ratings and shoppers can view products from highest to lowest rated.


Reviews are potentially more credible than ads or sellers’ endorsements, so there is a temptation to manipulate them. This is hardly new. What is novel is the emergence of sites, whose primary purpose is to recruit visitors to give inflated reviews. Essentially these are sites designed to hire claques.

The problem is sufficiently broad to have engendered a study from computer scientists at Cornell on Finding Deceptive Opinion Spam and a recent review in the technology blog of the New York Times.

Biased reviews are a hazard for opinion sites, which risk becoming irrelevant if the market perceives them as fronts for sellers. Cooked reviews are also a threat to businesses, whose competitors buy fictional praise for themselves or induce others to give dishonestly negative ratings to their rivals.

What can a marketer do when confronted with phony reviews from rivals?

Now more than ever, monitoring social media to track your company and your competition should be part of your normal ongoing market research. You need to track your ratings and those of your cohort. This does not have to be expensive. You can do a lot with free tools, such as Google Alerts, Twitter Search and Social Mention. Should you want more than the free services provide, there are also a number of proprietary offerings such as Traktur, Radian6 and

If you genuinely have raving fans, make this known through YouTube interviews, news releases, use cases, and a testimonials section on your company website (with enough detail to be credible). Highlighting genuine praise may speak louder than 3.7 stars on Amazon.

If you have genuine criticisms, use them to understand and fix what bugs your customers. This is a great way to convert them into fans.