Did you see this recent New York Times article, “Give Yourself 5 Stars? Online, It Might Cost You”?
(Funny how it says 5 in the title, but 4 in the link. I guess even NYT can goof.)
If you read the article, you’ll see that several businesses were fined large sums of money for using phony online reviews to make their businesses look more appealing to customers.
Most people are aware that there are phony reviews. What needs more publicity is the ongoing effort by various companies (and law enforcement) to remove, prevent, and punish the phony reviews.
For example, Amazon cracked down on phony, family, and close friend reviews a couple of years ago, and this has greatly helped to reduce the number of phony 4- and 5-star reviews. Most customers are aware of the problem, but aren’t aware that it has improved significantly. (Yes, it would be nice if Amazon also cracked down on the phony critical reviews to the same extent, but at least Amazon has made big strides.) Surely, there is still some review abuse, but it is appears to be much better than it was a few years ago.
Many other websites are similarly working to remove and prevent review abuse. Some are even eliminating critical review abuse in addition to favorable review abuse, which is another good sign.
The above article shows that steps are even being taken on the legal side of this issue. When any business senses that a significant amount of money is being lost due to review abuse, this becomes an incentive to help bring action against it.
Don’t lose any sleep over people who may be gaming the system. Things will catch up with them eventually.
Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)