Fake reviews? Lessons from Brexit

Summary: What does the Brexit crisis have in common with fake online reviews?
What role can data analytics and analysis play in this saga?
This post provides guidance for depending on hashtags and online reviews.

Pollsters and punters had the Remain campaign winning the Brexit vote by a hair. But the headlines this and last week speak to a different tune.

The Pound Sterling fell as traders prepared for a cut in the interest rate. Some felt that Britain was starting to imitate Greece and called it Britain’s Greek tragedy…

So are we analysts and number crunchers to blame? Here are some things the Brexit crisis has taught us big data pundits.

1. Hashtags do not win elections

Groups tapped into social media in the hope of persuading the young to join in (or out). Stars joined campaigns and let themselves be used as messengers in videos. Nevertheless, all this failed to sway enough voters to go to the polls.

Just about two weeks before the referendum was held Thursday 2016-06-23, Adam & Eve DDB tried its luck with an online video campaign featuring celebrities and swear words, including this example:

Nevertheless, featuring Keira Knightly failed to give it much traction on YouTube. Maybe just another example for how advertising professionals know far less than they claim about what it takes to make a viral video.

Inspiring young people to vote in the EU referendum proved tough in the UK. But other countries have similar experience. For instance, in Switzerland younger people tend to vote less often than their elders.

Brandwatch did a study about hashtags for the Brexit campaign. Unfortunately, data are sketchy. Did they include the hashtag #voteremain that was apparently used 600,000 times in their analysis? And what about others?

#Voteexit was used over a million times, but was that the only Brexit hashtag? What about those social media users that used several hashtags in their tweets for one campaign?

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Besides, using a hashtag does not mean my tweet is positive toward that particular side of the campaign. And does voicing our opinion using social media mean we go to the trouble of voting?

Nor has social media been known to change people’s firm opinions, so who cares about the social media echo chamber. It is the voting booth that counts, stupid.

2. Fake online reviews and your cash register

Like hashtags fail to necessarily sway a large group of voters, so do fake online reviews. But some attribute increasing importance to them. In fact, Social Bites won awards and was feted by social media ‘influencers’.

Unfortunately, it all turned out to be a fake used by Mark Cowper to show how much social network content is fake (see image below). The Twitter account has now been closed.

In particular, this highlights how influencers let themselves be swayed and thereby provide their fans or followers with useless information or fake content / reviews.

Read: Fake online reviews

What is really sad is that the campaign grabbed a lot of attention on social networks and in the media.

But can we conclude that all this hype would have resulted in more sales? The site never got launched, but this could well indicate that buzz has little to do with your bottom line.

Social Bites won awards and was feted by social media ‘influencers’ but it was a fake.
Social Bites won awards and was feted by social media ‘influencers’ but it was a fake.

Nevertheless, fake online reviews are becoming a plague. So much so that the UK government decided to investigate online reviews late last year.

Read the interesting press release here: Press Release – UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) takes enforcement action against fake online reviews

March 2016, the authority published some guidance for businesses on what is okay under the law. Check out the report here: Guidance Online reviews: letting your customers see the true picture – see image below.

What do you need to do if you are a business whose products are being reviewed?
What you need to do if you are a business whose products are being reviewed?

3. Should I put trust in reviews from associates?

Mark Cowper’s experiment nicely illustrates the problem of how sharing of fake reviews and wrongful information affect one’s online reputation.

In turn, he wanted to illustrate that we need a review platform that provides us with product reviews from our trusted network.

The idea is great. Getting recommendations from my trusted network sounds like a classic word-of-mouth marketing approach.

We love to hear our friends’ experiences before we buy (see screenshot below – find and save recommendations from your trusted network).

Recomazing, a social network that enables people to review, share and find reviews from their real-life network of friends and relatives.
Recomazing, a social network that enables people to review, share and find reviews from their real-life network of friends and relatives.

Unfortunately, the Recomazing network is a perfect example of sunk costs. I have already invested in having an online presence on such platforms as Twitter, Google+, Flickr, Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram and Tencent.

So starting anew on Recomazing also means some switching costs.

  • Is it worth it?
  • Who has the time to join another network, never mind write and read product reviews about things one will never buy?
  • Do we have the time – or is it just so entertaining (e.g., like watching a video) that we do not mind spending time on a network about product reviews?

Besides, while this may work in OZ (Australia and New Zealand), hardly any of my friends in Europe use it. So am I wasting my time joining? Probably.

Watch the short video below and you’ll see what I mean.

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3 takeaways: Use product reviews wisely
1. Hashtags help but may not make your cash register ring

Do we use actionable metrics, i.e. metrics which we can take action on?

If one million users use a hashtag, will it result in Trump or Clinton winning the election?
As the Brexit referendum illustrates, hashtags and social media activity did not swing the Remain vote enough to make a difference at the polls.

2. Do we understand the metrics behind the analysis?

If we analyse the numbers, were the online reviews from real or fake customers?
Are those people regulars or Chinese tourists that failed to understand the customer survey they were handed in German?

And before I forget: Have we even thought about the possibility of errors in our data set due to e.g., sampling bias, response bias or sampling error?

3. Wait a while before asking your out-of-town customers for feedback

I remember having dinner with my family at a restaurant in Amsterdam. Before we even got the bill, we were invited to rate them. The waiter brought us an iPad where we could enter our review right away.

It’s better to wait and then send your client a short survey (5 questions max). Or invite them to write a review / testimonial for your webpage. And yes, writing the review on a platform like TripAdvisor might not hurt.

Research demonstrates that giving your customer four weeks before asking for feedback is a smarter approach if you want better reviews.

Interesting read: How to boost online ratings legally

More interesting reads – misinformation tends to ripple… facts remain scarce

a) Word-of-mouth marketing can make a difference (in German)
b) Data analytics: Lessons learned from Ebola
c) Can infographics show you the money?
d) Scottish referendum: A false sense of precision?
e) Data analytics: UPS or Apple?

4. Have your say – join the conversation

Source: Fake reviews? Lessons from Brexit

What is your opinion?

  • How do you decide what to buy?
  • Do you have a circle of friends that write online reviews regularly?
  • When was the last time you shopped for a brand or stayed at a hotel because of a review?
  • Do you remember last time your friend recommended a product based on their great experience (e.g., running shoe, coffee maker or going to shop at a store with knowledgeable and friendly staff) and you took their advice?

The author declares that he had no conflict of interest with respect to the content, authorship or publication of this blog entry (i.e. I neither own any of these brands’ products nor are they our clients).

Urs E. Gattiker

Professor Urs E. Gattiker - DrKPI is corporate Europe's leading social media metrics expert (see his books). He continues to work with start-ups. Urs is CEO of CyTRAP Labs GmbH.

2 thoughts on “Fake reviews? Lessons from Brexit

    • 4. July 2016 at 21:53
      Permalink

      Dear Peter

      Thanks for this comment… yes I am a bit surprised. Most embarrassed are prediction markets. Experts and sometimes people like you and me, bid for these futures. Market discipline harnesses the wisdom of crowds.

      Polls suggested that the referendum was on a knife-edge. But during election night UK books said Brexit had only a 10% chance. Almanis prediction put its chances at 19% others the odds at 25 percent

      Brexit - the rats are leaving the ship

      READ: Authers, John. Red-faced experts survey the wreckage of their forecasts. The long view. Financial Times, FT Weekend, p. 22. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/9c1d386a-3f63-11e6-9f2c-36b487ebd80a.html (shows that the crowd was wrong in other cases as well … Trump, referndum in Scotland, etc.

      Experts underestimated the high turn-out by pro-Brexit votes, many of them economically disenfranchised…. and the young did not in large enough numbers cast their against-Brexit vote.

      Now we have the Brexit and since neither Johnson nor Nigel Farage will be around to cope with the aftermath… Last Wednesday night, experts gave Boris Johnson a 59% chance to become Britain’s next Prime Minister. Now he has withdrawn…

      In this case, wisdom of the crowds has failed us.

      Reply

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