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PR and advertising agencies go to great lengths to convince you to buy the products they represent. They use ads on television and radio. They use the information you provide to social networks to find you online. And many employ tactics way sneakier than mere ads. That’s where I came in: I was once a professional review writer.
PR firms know that customers use reviews as a shopping tool, and some hire freelance writers to produce favorable reviews for a fee, boosting the overall appearance of satisfaction with the products they represent. My niche was book reviews. PR firms would hire me to post five-star reviews on high-profile sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble in order to create a buzz. While they didn’t require me to write lies or tell me exactly what to write, if the review wasn’t five star, they didn’t pay the typical $10- 20 fee.
So, how can you spot the fakes and avoid being taken in? Here are a couple of tips:
- Avoid reviews that are overly general or “salesy.” When I wrote reviews for books, I often relied on the hooks publishers included on the book jackets and to the product overview sections of online book stores. The reason was because they provided just enough information for me to write a coherent review and they contained tons of action words designed to motivate customers to buy the book and read more. By using the same verbiage, my reviews served to reinforce that same message. Steer clear of user reviews that read like a sales ad.
- Be cautious of too many five-star reviews. No product is going to please all of the people all of the time. When I was hired to write reviews, I was rarely alone in my endeavors. In most cases there were 10 to 20 reviewers or more assigned to the same book. Each of us was tasked with writing and posting a five-star review in order to create the appearance of having many satisfied customers. Having too many five-star reviews is a surefire clue that something is amiss.
- Look at the date/time stamps on the reviews. When I was paid to produce a review, I was usually given a deadline of 48 hours for completion. The same held true for the other reviewers assigned to the same project. This meant that a new book would have anywhere from 10 to 50 or more reviews posted within a 48-hour period. If you find a bunch of reviews posted around the same date/time, be wary.
User reviews are a valuable tool that you can use to gauge whether a product will work for you. The main thing to remember when reading them is to trust your instinct. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, no matter what the reviews say.
This isn’t the first time we’ve warned about fake reviews: See our story 11 Tips to Spot Fake Reviews.