Do you trust Trustpilot?

Do you trust Trustpilot, Yelp and comparable recommendation services?

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A couple of days ago I took part in a sales and marketing workshop with a speaker and 29 highly educated people from different branches. During the discussion on how businesses could and should use social media as part of their sales and retention strategy the speaker raised the issue of social proof and recommendations and asked how many in the room that trusted Trustpilot. To my big surprize almost everybody raised their hands.

So here we had a group of highly educated people, all with experience within the fields of communication and PR, which completely believed that all the comments and recommendations on Trustpilot could be trusted. I must admit that up till this point I honestly believed that most people knew that Trustpilot is a business and that, like all other businesses, their goal is to optimize their profit.

It is well known that we, the consumers, trust recommendations coming from peers or fellow consumers much more than we trust what businesses are telling us about them. Therefor the businesses selling social proof are very powerful and they can easily manipulate our thoughts on any brand. In this short post I will point out why recommendation services like Trustpilot and Yelp can’t be trusted which, funny enough, is the same reason why they can be vital for your business.


What if you could pay to get rid of bad reviews?

Well you can. Actually minimizing bad reviews and being able to manipulate the truth is exactly the kind of product these kinds of services are selling. And it’s not even illegal. Yelp even won a court settlement recently, giving them permission to legally manipulate ratings. Both Yelp and Trustpilot claims that they don’t manipulate the truth, but when you take a closer look into the services they are selling, you get a completely different picture.

Recommendations services are in fact enabling the manipulation of ratings for the businesses that they sign. In many cases they are even promoting it. And why shouldn’t they? Bad reviews can be devastating for a business, which of course makes for a winning business model.

As a business you need to be where people are talking about you, but more than that, you need to be able to react to what’s being said. As a business it is critical that you are able to do damage control when you come across an unhappy customer. In services like Trustpilot, you are going to have to pay to have this option.


How it works

As soon as you start a business you will automatically be added to services like Trustpilot whether you like it or not. This could be a good thing as these services gives the consumers a place to promote businesses that delivers on their brand promise and a place to speak up if they don’t. However since these services are in fact in the business of selling social proof, as a consumer, what you see in the reviews might not be the whole truth.

Many of the reviews on these services come from surveys send out to customers. However, as a business who pays for the services companies like Trustpilot sell, you are able to decide which customers that should be allowed to get these surveys, thereby you can screen the participants, making sure that the customers who, for some reason, have had a bad experience with you, will not be a part of the statistics. Furthermore you can also get the services to remove bad reviews completely, and not only the fake ones.

So are businesses actively selecting which customers that should take part in these surveys? Well of course they are. It’s only natural that businesses are interested in minimizing negative recommendations. I have first-hand knowledge about businesses doing this. Most businesses will say that they don’t screen the participants and that they don’t remove bad publicity if possible. I have to say that I’m not a big believer.  You may say that since I have no written proof or statistics, I can’t claim this to be true on a big scale. You may be right.


Be sceptical

Anyway, I find it very important that consumers understand that they have to be sceptical when it comes to businesses selling social proof. There may very well be a lot of genuine recommendations out there, but judging businesses solely on those services would be a mistake. Therefor I would strongly recommend that you:

  • Remember that they are a business as well and their goal is to make money.
  • Remain sceptical when using recommendation services in your buying process, the reviews may not show an accurate picture.
  • Check multiple sources before deciding about a company or product.
  • Watch out for fake reviews.
  • Use your common sense.

During the last 6 months or so, I have heard several accusations coming from small businesses, that services like Yelp and Trustpilot are sort of blackmailing them into becoming paying customers. A bad review in recommendation services isn’t necessarily the same as a business with bad morals, but may in fact be the opposite. This is also a problem in Denmark and especially holds true for small and new businesses. Personally I find this very alarming. What do you think? Do you trust Trustpilot?

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