Marketing Pilgrim's Reputation Channel

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Belkin Gets Caught Buying 5-Star Reviews & My Alternative Recipe for Ratings Success



Just last Wednesday, I spent an entire session of my Online Reputation Management workshop explaining how to manage negative product reviews, and increase the positive ones.

One tactic I absolutely did not endorse was the one a Belkin employee was discovered using over at Amazon.com.

That’s a request from somebody named Mike Bayard to review a product and “give [it] a 100% rating (as high as possible).” It doesn’t matter if the reviewer doesn’t own the product or has never tried it– the requester has helpfully written, “Write as if you own the product and are using it.” It even goes a step further, asking the Mechanical Turk user to “Mark any other negative reviews as “not helpful” once you post yours.”

Users are paid 65 cents for every positive review they leave. There are dozens of these requests from this Mike Bayard guy on Mechanical Turk.

It would have been bad enough if Bayard had simply bribed satisfied customers to leave a positive review, but his offer suggested that, heck, even if you’ve not actually tried our products, just make something up–and Belkin would still pay you!

Unfortunately for Belkin, the blogosphere was watching and this attempt to game the system was brutally exposed. Fortunately for Belkin, they responded with transparency and sincerity–and it appears to be an isolated incident:

…it was with great surprise and dismay when we discovered that one of our employees may have posted a number of queries on the Amazon Mechanical Turk website inviting users to post positive reviews of Belkin products in exchange for payment…We want to stress that this is an isolated incident and to re-instill trust with you..

Look, I know it hurts to get a negative review, but there are more authentic ways to increase positive reviews for your products or services. Here are just a few I shared at my workshop:

  1. Herd your customers – you don’t need to bribe your customers into a giving a positive review, but you should actively point them to the place that you care about the most. In Belkin’s case, a glossy slip of paper, inserted into the product packaging, asking happy customers if they’d mind heading to Amazon to leave feedback, would have been a great start.
  2. Brag a little – the “wisdom of crowds” can be used to your advantage. If you typically get 4 & 5 star reviews for your products, why not brag about it? Think how Apple benefits from this. So many people love Apple’s products that when my MacBook Pro crashes, I think to myself “I must have done something wrong, cos everyone tells me how reliable Macs are!”
  3. Create a loyalty program – I’ve bought Belkin products before, but I’ve also switched between Linksys and D-Link too! Why? There’s no incentive to remain loyal to Belkin. On the other hand, I (almost) always fly American airlines, shop at Best Buy, and get my groceries from Harris Teeter. Why? Because there’s an incentive–even if it’s just the perception of being a VIP–to continue using those companies. If Belkin could build some brand loyalty, it will find that not only will it earn more positive reviews, but those reviewers will also defend the company against negative reviews.
  4. Listen to your customers – you can put lipstick on a 1-star broadband router, but it’s still a crappy router. Don’t just listen to your customers’ negative reviews, but do something about them. Improve your products, let the complainers be the first to get their hands on the new version, and show your target audience that you’ve listened and responded.

I could go on, but I’d like to hear from you. What advice do you have for companies looking to increase their product’s positive reviews?

UPDATE: New claims that this is NOT an isolated incident by Belkin.