Online trust: Peer-level accord or smoke & mirrors

The online world of trust is changing shape, the concept that folks trust other folks more than brands is well documented and a number of companies are serving up a solution to this. Included in the general list is TrustPilot, Google Review, Reviews and Feefo, all of which allow companies to enhance their search listings via the use of stars. There are also vertical market providers such as Defaqto.

The benefits, to companies, is that they get to boast about their product or service without it coming across as hubris. It’s also nicely supports any advertising and marketing as, in most cases, it appears that Google is giving the product a thumbs up.

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As more and more of these trust applications appear, the challenge is avoid them becoming just more digital noise. If everyone is going to get 4 or 5 star reviews then they don’t really provide a realistic measure of product or service. This is made worse by many SEO or digital reputation companies creating false or falsing driving reviews to their clients. False reviews are the worst and most suppliers in this field are trying to deal with this by validating the reviewer, either via an independent login (e.g. Facebook) or tying the review back to an actual purchase.

Most companies hate the idea of getting a bad review, despite crowd-sourcing sitting as one of the cornerstones of the web. They hate it because they feel they are no longer in control and complain endlessly about a lack of management, or right-to-reply. If you’re going to join the trust-web then you need to listen to all the reviews, and stop treating them as a paid badge of honour. In a transparent world, good companies will rise to the top and the ones that offers poor product or service will either up their game or fade away. If businesses interfere with the process it won’t take long for consumers to start ignoring the ratings and seek product and service reviews elsewhere.

To be fair, many of the reviews are poor – not really useful or to be trusted, especially if they are left anonymously and seem to be empty. For example:

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These two reviews, for different companies and on different platforms, should not be measured as equal; one is mis-spelt, too short and anonymous and the other is considered, information rich and tied to a real person. I’d ignore the first one, but read the second one. It’s shame, then, that they both score a effective star rating.

It will take a Google-type organisation to step in and apply some semantic tagging to make sense of the reviews and produce a realistic rating system. In the meantime we’re going to start going blind to these reviews. Taking the same subject as above, Laser Eye Surgery, take a look at what fills the search screen.

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Six companies, all with ratings of 4.5 or 5 stars (out of 5). It’s not really a useful measure anymore in some markets, as it simply cannot be possible for all the major providers in a given market to be in the top 10% of ratings. Would you trust the reviews more if they were independently audited? Probably.

By Martin Dower