Clicks, Tricks And Honest Picks – Unpacking The Online Review Racket

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Do you trust customer reviews online?

Back in 1999, I was the Director of Advertising and Sponsorship (…a salesperson) for one of the first search engines on the Internet (some might call it, the mother of all search engines aka Mamma).
To put the timing into perspective, Google wasn’t even a player in the search space just yet.
As we tinkered with new forms of advertising (pay per click, auction-based placement, enabling ads to show based on the keywords chosen by the user, and other models that are now commonplace), ecommerce started to flourish.
The terms ’search engine optimization’ and ’search engine marketing’ didn’t exist yet.
One thing I noticed back then, was that there might be a business based on regular people (like you and me) providing our honest feedback and reviews for the stuff that we were buying online.

At the time, I purchased the domain and let it linger.

I got busy with work and never pursued the idea.
Fast forward to 2005, and I am connected to Brett Hurt (now a dear friend) and his new startup, Bazaarvoice.
Back then, Bazaarvoice focused on allowing businesses to add product reviews to their websites (at the time, this was something that Amazon was doing but few others could afford to build out on their own).
Bazzarvoice did phenomenally well, going public (raising $114 million in its IPO), then being taken private. Brett has moved on, but the company still moves forward.

Consumer reviews are also seen as the backbone of marketing and developing trust with consumers.

It has become commonplace online.
Now, user generated content and consumer reviews is big business.
How many reviews… how many people are speaking positively about a product… it all matters and it all counts.
In the realm of film critique, where opinions shape perceptions and ratings influence decisions, the landscape of paid reviews casts a shadow over the integrity of our critical discourse.
After recent articles in Wired (Online Reviews Are Being Bought and Paid For. Get Used to It), Vulture (The Decomposition of Rotten Tomatoes – The most overrated metric in movies is erratic, reductive, and easily hacked — and yet has Hollywood in its grip) and Search Engine Land (Google says it took down 45% more fake reviews in 2023 thanks to new algorithm), the value and ethics behind online reviews are back in the spotlight.

So… what do we know?

  • There’s a huge demand for critical content on products, leading to a market for paid reviews.
  • It’s common for companies to pay for promotional content, including reviews.
  • There’s nuanced ethical considerations for many industries, where financial incentives and the need for visibility of more indie/startup brands intersect.
  • How do we define integrity if a review is paid for?
  • There’s broader implications for trust and authenticity in media and reviews, impacting consumer behavior and the perception of independent art and products.

It’s complex… like most things these days.

This is what Elias Makos and I discussed on CJAD 800 AM. Listen in right here.

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