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20% Of All Medical Spa Yelp Reviews (Including Yours) Are Fake?

What's this? Fake reviews that you've posted about your own clinic? Say it ain't so...

Now, more than ever, social media plays an integral part of businesses marketing strategies. Savvy consumers turn to Yelp and a host of similar sites to read reviws, and in turn make buying desicions based on what they’ve read. 

The problem is, some businesses (insert medical spas, dermatologists, and plastic surgeons here) are paying freelance writers to create “fake” positive reviews... or they're just writing them themselves.

Writers from Eastern Europe or Asia are paid a few dollars to write glowing reviews... because they work. Businesses are highly motivated to obtain positive reviews, as according to a 2011 study by Michael Luca, assistant professor at Harvard Business School, a one star rating hike on Yelp can mean a 5% to 9% rise in restauraunt revenue.

The number of fraudulent reviews on Yelp rose from 5% in 2006 to 20% in 2013, according to “Fake It Till You Make It: Reputation, Competition, and Yelp Review Fraud,” a report by Luca that was co-written by Georgios Zervas, an assistant professor of marketing at Boston University. Analyzing an additional 316,415 Yelp reviews of Boston restaurants, 16% were filtered and identified as fake, Luca says.

This is a problem that is only beginning to be addressed. Five or six years ago anyone could post phony reviews from their own computer, without ever calling attention to themselves. Things have become a bit more comlicated since then. Now, fake reviewers must submit fake email addresses, and write reviews from multiple locations. Fake reviewers and the companies that hire them are now beginning to face fines. The office of New York’s Attorney General announced this week that it fined businesses (including on physician if I remember correctly) more than $350,000 for publishing fake reviews.

Additionally, false praise online is expected to become more and more widespread. Fake reviews are expected to grow between 10 and 15% by 2014, predicts Gartner, an online research firm.

What’s Yelp’s response? Yelp’s automated software looks at every review published, and ultimately deemphasizes about 20% of the more than 39 million reviews onto a secondary “Filtered reviews” page linked at the bottom of business listings. 

Meanwhile, Google is moving away from anonymous reviews, requiring reviewers to be logged in to Google Plus to write one. Yelp could require a Facebook login to help guarantee identities, but of course options like these may scare off or, just plain annoy potential reviewers.

We all know buying and selling reviews is wrong. And, now, it’s against the law. Yelp’s final word? “But don’t worry, we’ll keep watching out for consumers behind the scenes, too. Just in case.”

Of course we've seen this here, and we've outed a number of equipment vendors and physicians who got caught posting fake reviews here. That's one of the reasons that we don't allow vendors or salespeople into the Medical Spa MD LinkedIn Group.

Has anyone out there got a sneaking suspicion (and an example or two) that the medical spa or clinic down the street is doing this?

Reader Comments (2)

I first read about some company basically threatening businesses to pay up or be subjected to bad reviews... now we learn that those reviews might actually be false? Beware all things internet.

Ironically, one of the worst offenders regarding manipulating reviews is Yelp, itself. Yelp is rather notorious for holding positive reviews "hostage" by filtering them from view. Allegedly this was done when Yelp was trying to "encourage" (strongarm) listed businesses to purchase upgraded listings and ad campaigns on Yelp. Not interested in an ad or upgraded listing? Well, your legit, historic positive reviews may suddenly be filtered and suddenly any lower-star-ranked reviews are much more prominent. This practice was so engregious it led to lawsuits -- the first of which, I believe, was by a day spa in California.

That lawsuit stated, in the complaint: "[Yelp] asks business owners for 'protection' from bad reviews (in the form of advertising dollars) while Yelp controls whether bad reviews are posted in the first place-the classic scheme of offering 'protection' from a problem that the 'protector' himself creates."

The suit also alleged Yelp removed or relocated negative reviews and created positive reviews for advertisers.

Naturally this was denied vehemently by Yelp, but he outcome was Yelp adding the fine-print link to filtered reviews which supposedly makes it easier for readers to find filtered reviews. Not so much.

Check out this article, for some additional background.

Our spa directory at Guide to Spas, has always allowed user reviews, and we had literally hundreds of reviews. However, we recently changed our platform which now requires a user to register a user name, provide identifying data (confirmed email address), and log-in before a review can be posted. Spa Owners may not post their own reviews and we do as much as we can to filter out what we consider to be bogus or phony reviews.

The end result is we no longer get daily reviews posted because it *is* more difficult for users to write and submit the reviews. That's a disappointing realty, but we think it's a worthwhile sacrifice to keep the reviews "honest" and useful, and to discourage spa owners with a little too much enthusiasm and/or time on their hands, which is spent writing fake reviews.

10.12 | Unregistered CommenterSpaIndex

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