Review bombing is a phenomenon that has unfortunately affected many businesses. It may be due to disgruntled fans or customers leaving negative ratings and reviews. Or, it may be a malicious attack against a brand, using a mass of fake negative reviews as a weapon. Regardless of the motive, victims of a review bomb can expect to have their reputations damaged – and it has to stop.
All review systems have a noble cause: to let real customers share their experience with a product or service. For businesses, having positive reviews can significantly increase their lead acquisitions, which is why some are investing in the best online reputation management (ORM) services to generate reviews.
As much impact a positive review has on swaying customers, the impact of a negative review is much more severe. This finding is from Qahri-Saremi’s research paper, “Negativity Bias in the Diagnosticity of Online Review Content: The Effects of Consumers’ Prior Experience and Need for Cognition.”
While one negative review has the potential to turn away tens of prospects, imagine how much damage a review bomb, a barrage of fake negative reviews, can do to a business.
At any rate, this article will answer the following questions to help you avoid or respond to review bombing.
- What is review bombing?
- Why would anyone want to review bomb a business?
- How much damage can fake reviews on Yelp, Google, Facebook and other platforms or review sites cause?
- What ORM marketing strategies can businesses use to protect their brand reputation?
What Is Review Bombing?
The term “Review Bomb” describes a phenomenon in which a large number of people using one or more accounts post negative ratings or reviews. Regardless of the motivation, this action can hurt a brand’s reputation, leading to a loss of sales.
Characteristics of a review bomb:
- The target receives a large number of negative feedback within a short time. While some may be legitimate criticisms, others may not be true or malicious.
- Review bombing can happen anytime, lasting only a short amount of time. Usually, its duration ranges from hours to a few weeks.
- Usually, the target of review bombs is a specific person or issue. In a business setting, it can be the brand itself or its product, service, or customer service.
- Most entities posting reviews are not customers of the brand they are attacking. They are using dummy accounts or running bot-controlled accounts for fake review generation.
Why Do Review Bombs Happen?
There are a few reasons why review bombings can happen.
- The most common reason is a scandal or issue, which can be political, social, cultural, etc.
- A less common reason nowadays for review bombing is a disgruntled employee or customer.
- Sometimes, it may be due to trolling or a business trying to undermine its competitor.
- A recent trend is scammers extorting businesses by blackmailing them with review bombs.
At any rate, the underlying cause of most business review bombing cases is to draw attention to a particular issue. Usually, this phenomenon occurs in response to a brand that does not have an open communication channel or is unresponsive to issues.
Can Review Bombing Hurt a Business?
In a report released by ReviewTrackers, up to 94 percent of consumers said a negative review had convinced them to avoid doing business with a brand. If one bad review is enough to cause damage to a business, a mass of negative reviews, such as in the case of a review bombing, can potentially cause much more damage.
On social media, review bombs are potentially more lethal. Think of them as customer reviews that went viral. Aside from the original posts (regardless if they are dummies or bots), the negative publicity gets amplified when users share them on their networks. Besides ruining brand reputation, negative reviews may also hurt website search engine optimization (SEO), thus reducing the potential to attract leads.
Not all businesses get affected by review bombs the same way. Large organizations, for example, have substantial brand equity to withstand the negativity. Besides, they have the financial capability to hire the best online reputation management company to help with online review monitoring and responding to reviews.
One good example is Marvel Studios. In 2019, Captain Marvel received more than 58,000 reviews for a 33 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes within hours of opening. The number of reviews was more than the total reviews for Avengers: Infinity War during its entire theatrical run. Nonetheless, the film was a blockbuster, grossing over $1.1 billion worldwide.
Small to medium-sized businesses, unfortunately, may not have enough brand equity and financial resources to contain the damage dealt by a review bomb. But it is possible to mitigate risks with sound ORM marketing and brand reputation management strategy.
Can a Business Avoid or Prevent Review Bombs?
Crisis mitigation and response plans are necessary to keep a business safe and its reputation untainted. So when it comes to reducing the risk of being bombed by fake reviews on Facebook, Google, Yelp and other review sites, an online review monitoring strategy can help in early detection. Therefore, providing a business with enough time to take the necessary steps to stop a crisis from occurring.
The potential harm of review bombing is terrifying. Fortunately, platforms have implemented measures to prevent or limit its incidence.
How do popular platforms prevent review bombs?
- Google uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to moderate user-generated content on Google Maps. Besides examining the content of every review, they also look into the history of users and businesses to identify patterns. Machines can flag and remove fraudulent content, including fake reviews on Google, so users do not see them.
- Yelp, a popular crowd-sourced review platform for local businesses, uses a system that notifies its moderators when a business quickly gets large numbers of reviews. In response, the moderators would investigate and clean up the review page, deleting fake reviews while preserving the authentic ones.
- Facebook, where misinformation gets much more engagement than real news, does not appear to have a policy against review bombing. Hence, it is much more critical for businesses to have an online review monitoring system to track brand mentions, among others. Then, if fake reviews are detected, they can be flagged for the Facebook team to check.
Preserving their system’s integrity is in the best interest of review sites and many other platforms. But even large organizations like Google, which already use the most advanced technologies, are not infallible. Other websites and platforms, meanwhile, may not have a comparable system.
Depending on other platforms to prevent or remove fake reviews is a mistake. So business owners and management must rely on their initiatives to prevent review bombing. For example, use the best online reputation management company to track brand mentions and reviews. Aside from identifying fake reviews, an ORM agency can help improve customer relationships by responding to reviews. Review generation is also another ORM service that can drive lead acquisition efforts.
What Can a Brand Do if Bombed by Fake Negative Reviews?
Assume the inevitable happens. What steps should one take to handle a review bombing crisis?
1. Identify the Root Cause
Typically in a crisis, the standard response is to “react” to the damage. A company could, for instance, issue a denial in case of a scandalous issue. While that is an option, the one thing that should not be neglected is to determine the root cause.
Who and why are these people mass posting fake reviews on Yelp or other sites?
Unfortunately, identifying the cause is not easy. Fake reviews, for instance, make no sense – because they are fake. Usually, the intent is to hurt the popularity of a brand and ruin its reputation.
There are also circumstances in which negative reviews come from real people. In this case, the company must understand the grievances before responding to reviews and addressing the issue.
In determining the cause, remember that it can be a legitimate issue, misguided public perception, or a malicious attack by competitors or scammers.
2. Determine the Appropriate Actions To Solve the Problem
The first thing that needs to happen is for the mass of negative reviews to stop pouring in. So, depending on the cause, the company may take the most appropriate actions.
Here are some scenarios:
Roll Back an Unpopular Decision
Fans of Sonic the Hedgehog took to social media and complained about the CGI design of the anthropomorphic blue hedgehog in Paramount’s film adaptation. Their gripe was that the creature did not resemble the character they had come to love in the classic video game.
In response, the filmmaker announced days after the release of the first trailer that they would redesign the character.
Recall a Product
A common cause of a legitimate issue that led to review bombing involves terrible or faulty products. It gets worse when the consumers perceive the company as unresponsive, unreasonable, unreliable and lacking a sense of responsibility.
Some companies perceive product recalls as costly and a cause of bad publicity. But hesitating worsens customers’ grudges, which is why they vent their frustrations online. Therefore, the most prudent thing to do is to solve the problem, such as issuing a product recall.
Get Rid of a Toxic Employee
An employee may offend a customer or the general public. Assault, harassment, racism, sexism and bigotry are only some behaviors and actions that can cause a public uproar. In this case, the company should fire that employee.
Regardless of the action taken, a company must consider its brand positioning among consumers. No matter who the customers are, it is crucial not to alienate them. At the same time, it is also important not to neglect social responsibilities.
Contact the Authorities if a Crime Is Suspected
In recent years, some businesses have become victims of extortion. One example is Nightbird, a fine-dining restaurant in San Francisco. Soon after a review bomb, the owner received an email from the perpetrator asking for a $75 worth of Google Play gift card.
The affected company can contact the authorities to seek help:
3. Identify All Affected Platforms
After identifying and resolving the root cause, negative reviews need to stop. So the next thing to do is to find all the platforms affected by review bombing.
Usually, review bombers focus their attention and resources on popular platforms. But a business might also be listed in tens to thousands of other websites and directories. Rather than finding them manually, it is much easier to use online reputation management services.
Having identified the platforms, the best way to proceed is to contact support and ask them to take down fake reviews. Note that most platforms and review aggregators will not remove any genuine customer review – and that includes negative feedback.
4. Repair Brand Reputation
A barrage of negative reviews can cause significant damage to a brand’s reputation. So what comes next is to repair the consumers’ perception of the brand.
One strategy to improve the brand’s image is to generate reviews. For example, a reputable brand reputation management agency would reach out to customers through various contact points, asking them to leave honest reviews. Most reviews should be positive if the affected company meets customers’ expectations of products or services.
Using ORM strategies to generate reviews is a step towards repairing brand reputation, but it can only be successful if legitimate issues are resolved.
Use ORM Strategies To Prevent or Mitigate the Risk of Review Bombing
Getting bombed by fake reviews can ruin a business, but there are preventive measures one can take. For example, use online reputation management services to track brand mentions and reviews. This way, there would be no surprises when there is an abnormal increase in negative reviews.
Even so, there is still a slight chance that it may happen. The most important thing to remember is not to react impulsively. Instead, think through the problem. First, identify the root cause and determine a plan of action. After that, exert effort to clean up fake reviews and repair the brand reputation by collecting authentic customer reviews.
If you want to learn more about how we can help protect your brand reputation, contact us at 866.325.0303. Our reputational manager can discuss how we can help you forge stronger customer relationships and brand equity.