Plumbers: Be Thy Self – and Only Thy Self

It seems so easy to enhance your image online by typing out a few glowing reviews – or asking friends or staff to do so. The cost is far greater than the benefit. And, there are far safer, economical ways to accomplish the objective.

Being “thy self” is not psychobabble about being true to your spirit. A few plumbers have destroyed their online reputations by pretending to be customers making complimentary statements on review sites. Gaming the system does not work. Producing or inducing fake positive reviews is a very short-sighted strategy. And, it can create unnecessary legal problems.

The State of New York went after Lifestyle Lift a plastic surgery practice for having its own employees flood the Internet with positive reviews. According to a release from the Attorney General’s office, “Lifestyle Lift employees published positive reviews and comments about the company to trick Web-browsing consumers into believing that satisfied customers were posting their own stories. These tactics constitute deceptive commercial practices, false advertising, and fraudulent and illegal conduct under New York and federal consumer protection law.”

Computers are very smart machines. They discern patterns of behavior and track the source of input very accurately and a million times faster than the human brain. This makes it extremely difficult to beat the system.

“Astroturfing”

The term “astroturfing” applies to businesses that create fake comments online to improve their image to readers. Google+, Yelp and most of the other review sites have built in systems to catch fake reviews and have a process of punishment in place. As in the case above, civil penalties can be issued by various state or federal agencies, as well.

The Federal Trade Commission has issued clear guidelines for the use of consumer reviews in online advertising. The fact is that most business owners, when asked, never considered online reviews to be advertising in the first place. The FTC sends the clear message to business owners that they must “follow the principles of truth in advertising” when using online reviews to promote their businesses.

The Sneaky Attorney General

Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman of the State of New York decided that online reviews were a matter of public interest and safety. He set up a sting where he would locate businesses willing to pay for positive fake reviews to be written. Under the theory that such actions constituted false advertising, he prosecuted 19 businesses and imposed $300,000 worth of fines.

Inherent Negative Bias

The challenge for business owners is the system is inherently negatively biased. Plumbing customers call on a trusted plumber and simply expect good, professional service and, with rare exception, receive it. When they don’t (or perceive that they don’t) they tend to get motivated to speak up online. This can be very damaging to a business. A single negative review which is visible above dozens of positive ones can cost you a prospective customer – or several.

It is this negative bias that is the foundation for the solution we provided by reputation management companies. The consumer is asked a few questions to determine a customer’s satisfaction with the transaction experience. If the customer is not happy, the system generates a text message to a responsible person at the business – perhaps the plumber or office manager – so immediate action can be taken before the customer is motivated to share their less-than-happy experience online. In the majority of situations when the customer has something nice to say, the system guides him or her to posting it online.

Playing by the Rules is Actually Easier

The whole review process is set up for consumers to have truthful information about companies with whom they may do business. Good, solid business owners need only have a way to get customers to do what they tend to do any way – say nice things. Skirting the law to scam the system is a short-sighted strategy.

This article is part of a series dealing with the new relationship between service professionals and their necessary connection to the Internet and online exposure.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Roger McManus is a principal at Mpact Magic (www.mpactmagic.com), a reputation management company that focuses on the service industries. Roger is the author of Entrepreneurial Insanity (Amazon) directed at small business owners who are stuck as the hub of their business’ wheel.