Most of us use Internet reviews before choosing a product or a travelling destination, and sometimes these are helpful and informative.
However, after the Amazon scandal that caused the e-commerce company to sue over 1,000 people suspected of phony reviews, who can you trust? According to a study by Mintel, as much as 57 percent of consumers are cautious when they only see positive reviews, while some 49 percent are certain that companies incentivize online reviewers in various ways.
Here are some pointers on how to avoid a mistrustful evaluation.
1. Doubt your instincts
Cornell University researchers developed a computer algorithm that is able to sort out fake hotel reviews. It does so by filtering the language used in real appraisals and compares it with suspicious reviews. The software, named Review Skeptic, hits the spot in nine out of ten cases and outclasses the human evaluators by a longshot.
"I was very surprised. We just cannot tell the difference much more than chance," Claire Cardie, a professor who was in the Cornell team, declared.
2. Hear the passion
The general consensus that extremes are bad applies perfectly to reviews. Over the top enthusiasm and hateful opinion have no place in a honest review. Be wary of superlatives.
The team at Cornell observed another interesting pattern: fake accommodation reviews are less specific than real ones, as you would expect from someone who never saw the respective space. Forged hotel reviewers tend to mention the purpose of the journey and touristic attractions instead of commending or criticizing the plumbing system of the hotel, for example.
3. Specifically good, technically bad
Some assessments seem to be a copy-paste version of the product manuals. When you see the product name mentioned several times, or the serial number, think twice. You might read an honest review or it could be a SEO trick to get more search results for the webpage. Except for the really-really geeky of us, most people don't lose themselves in technical jargon.
4. Who reviews the reviewer?
A quick glance at the profile of the person who wrote the review could tell you a lot about his credibility. Be cautious about users who only write reviews for a specific company, or display a majority of positive or negative evaluations under their belt.
Some companies, such Open Table require proof that you were their customer before posting a review, but since that practice is not commonplace, it is worth keeping an eye open for mercenaries.
5. The devil hides in the details
Every user who had a bad experience with a product or service can explain in some detail what functioned improperly or where the service lacked. Therefore, users who provide an actual reason for their dislike (the bathroom tiles were dirty, the notebook cooler stops working randomly, etc.) are more trustworthy than expeditive, "I hate this equipment!" analysts.