BYU professor’s research targets ways to rid web of fake reviews
Yelp, Trustpilot and TripAdvisor have already implemented some of the practices
Focusing on platforms such as Yelp, Trustpilot and TripAdvisor, one Brigham Young University educator is looking at how to restore trust is the sometimes deceptive world of online reviews.
Ben Beck, an assistant professor in BYU’s Marriott School of Business marketing and global supply chain department, with his colleagues Stefan Wuyts from Penn State and Sandy Jap from Emory University, performed a series of studies to research the reasons consumers trust online platforms.
Before getting his Ph.D. and focusing on research in 2018, Beck worked as a marketer for around 10 years. During this time, he says he saw many companies that would ask for feedback from customers, and only direct them to leave a review if they were satisfied with their experience, Beck knew then that something needed to change about the review system for all businesses and platforms to make them more trustworthy.
Beck explained that when a company pays for fake reviews or incentivizes their customers to write positive reviews, it makes the review platform untrustworthy, as people do not know which reviews are real. Through his research, he discovered these review platforms could implement five different practices to eliminate fake reviews, in turn elevating consumer trust.
The five practices are as follows:
- Monitoring: Evaluating reviews for authenticity.
- Exposure: Exposing firms propagating fake reviews.
- Identity disclosure: Requesting identifying information such as a name, location or ID.
- Community building: Creating a friendly space where consumers and reviewers can interact.
- Status endowment: Recognizing credible, helpful reviewers.
Yelp, TripAdvisor and Trustpilot, three review platforms, have implemented several of the principles suggested in Beck’s research. Beck said they also found these platforms were already using some of the same practices before the research was shown to them.
According to Beck, Yelp has implemented the exposure practice by placing a consumer alert on any business that has been incentivizing customers to write positive reviews or are buying fake reviews. This informs consumers, which may lessen business for the company, but it will bring more traffic to Yelp and make it more trustworthy, he explained.
When review platforms implement these principles, Beck said, companies are likely to stop the fake reviews so they are no longer flagged on the review platform.
According to Beck, consumers worry about two things: businesses buying or posting fake reviews, and whether the reviewers are authentic and genuine in their responses. “These five practices make it so that firms are less likely to buy fake reviews, and they make it so that reviewers are more likely to leave better reviews and be able to connect with the consumers and build trust that way,” he said.
The potential benefits of implementing the five practices aren’t limited to review platforms alone, Beck explained. Small-business owners who have reviews on their website also can implement the same practices to earn trust from consumers.
Companies paying for fake reviews are not likely to see immediate benefits of switching tactics, Beck said. But once trust is built by removing fake reviews, they may see long-term gains. In addition, other companies will benefit by not having to compete with fake reviews.
Beck said consumers will be able tell if a review platform has implemented these practices by watching for consumer alerts, opportunities to have an open dialogue with reviewers to show they are authentic, reviewers being recognized with a status endowment for being helpful and credible, and identification requirements to leave a review.
Beck said it would also be wise for review platforms or businesses to make known to the consumers that they are monitoring for fake reviews and what other practices they have implemented to minimize them. He explained that implementing just one of the five practices will have a positive effect on consumer trust of the review platform.
TripAdvisor has implemented the practice of community building by having a Q&A section where consumers can ask questions, and other reviewers respond to the questions. Beck explained that this open dialogue created between consumers and reviewers is a mechanism that builds trust because consumers get to interact with people who have experienced the service.
While the content of reviews are important, meaning the words said and the stars given, Beck said he and his fellow researchers found the implementation of these five practices has a larger impact on consumers making a judgment about a business and trusting the reviews. Through their research, they found “that our mechanisms have an above and beyond trust-building mechanism, trust-building power, beyond the review content,” he said.
According to Beck, creating this dynamic of trust between consumer, reviewer and business aligns with the type of research BYU is striving for. The university “wants us to be doing research that helps the world. I know this is a really, really tiny way of helping the world, but it’s at least something,” he said.
Beck said TripAdvisor put him and the other researchers in connection with the Federal Trade Commission. Their research on the five practices affecting consumer trust is currently being considered by the FTC for rules being made around fake reviews and holding businesses that buy or post fake reviews accountable.
“It’s been cool to get to help inform some of the legislative process with our research, and that’s largely because of great partners like Yelp and TripAdvisor that have helped connect us with media and legislators,” he said.