How to Avoid and Minimize Fake Social Media Reviews

October 22, 2012

Introduction

I was surprised to come across a press release from the research firm Gartner, which stated that “by 2014, 10-15 Percent of Social Media Reviews to Be Fake, Paid for By Companies.” As someone who relies on reviews to make purchasing decisions (e.g. on Amazon, Yelp, TripAdvisor and many other sites), this concerns me.

For actions such as views, Likes and followers, the “cost” (overhead) is low, while the action can be performed somewhat anonymously. A review, on the other hand, requires more “work,” and is often associated with some sort of identity (profile) of the reviewer.

In the press release, Gartner indicated that companies will emerge to assist brands: “Gartner analysts said they expect a similar market of companies to emerge specializing in reputation defense versus reputation creation.”

I have a better solution – and that’s to “attack” the root of the problem, which is the review site itself. Thankfully, many review sites are already structured to separate the quality reviews from the fake reviews.

Let’s look at some examples and consider some related ideas.

Review the Reviews.

“Meta,” according to Wikipedia, is “a concept which is an abstraction from another concept, used to complete or add to the latter.” To determine the worthiness of reviews, there’s nothing bet-ah (better) than meta (bad pun).

Let’s consider the reviews on Amazon. First, notice that the heading is “Most Helpful Customer Reviews.” Amazon allows users to indicate whether a review was helpful and then sorts their reviews list in order of “highest number of helpful review ratings” first.

The “Most Recent” reviews are listed off to the right column, in less prominent real estate. Also note that the reviewer is an “Amazon Verified Purchase,” which means that he purchased the book on Amazon.

Granted, one can still manipulate the system, as the New York Times detailed in a piece titled “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy.” But the Amazon system is effective because it relies on its users to tell us which reviews have been helpful. It also means that to display the “verified purchase” label, a fake reviewer would need to purchase the book on Amazon.

Establish “On-Site” Reputation.

In the Amazon example, the helpful reviews rose to the top, while the “non-helpful” reviews remained at the bottom. In this way, the Amazon reviews are similar to search engines, as few people click past Page 1 of search results pages (and the cream rises to the top).

In addition to rating the reviews, sites could establish reputation ratings for end users. eBay has been an innovator on this front, with their Feedback ratings. If you’ve ever purchased something on eBay, you probably viewed the seller’s ratings and read through comments (on that seller) left by other users.

Of course, an online review is a much different than an online purchase. Reviews won’t garner as much feedback as transactions. But the concept remains: allow users to establish reputation on the site, which will influence other users’ judgment on the published reviews.

Amazon, in fact, has a program called “Hall of Fame Reviewers” and Yelp has a program called the Yelp Elite Squad. Reviews that prominently display these sorts of reputation “achievements” (next to the reviewer) emphasize the “high reputation users” over those who may have ulterior motives (i.e. fake reviews).

Integrate Third Party Reputation Data.

Services such as Klout, Kred and PeerIndex aggregate public data (about you) to calculate online reputation scores. While not quite as useful as “on-site” reputation, linking reviewers to an online influence profile could help ward off fake reviews.

Influence equals credibility. And in considering whether a review is bonafide, I’d take an online influence score over nothing (i.e. an anonymous profile).

Deeper integrations between review sites and online influence services could tie “review topics” (e.g. books on Finance) to “influence topics” (e.g. Finance).

So, for instance, a review of a Finance book could link to the reviewer’s “Finance topic” page on the online influence site. Users reading the review could then determine how much weight to place on that particular review.

Integrate Third Party Social Identities.

Blogs and web sites use services such as Livefrye to conveniently integrate social identities (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) to web site and blog comments. Tying reviews to a social identity is far better than anonymous reviews. At minimum, the reader can visit the social profile of reviewers to make a judgment on their worthiness.

Conclusion

Online reviews play an enormous role in worldwide purchasing decisions. As with any data source, effectiveness is closely tied to credibility.

If 10-15% of social media reviews are fake, then credibility suffers. And when that happens, people will look for other means of purchasing decision research. As such, web sites that provide reviews should look to successful examples from Amazon, Yelp, eBay and others to help avoid and minimize fake reviews.

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .


The Second Life for Virtual Worlds: Vertical Solutions

September 11, 2011

Introduction

In 2007, Gartner predicted that “by the end of 2011, 80 percent of active Internet users (and Fortune 500 enterprises) will have a ‘second life’, but not necessarily in Second Life.”

As we approach the end of 2011, it’s safe to say that we’re far short of the 80 percent mark, as far as 3D avatars (in virtual worlds) go. It does seem clear, however, that the 80 percent figure is quite accurate if you consider the “second life” to be social networks. In fact, I then think the prediction turns out to be perfect.

Virtual Worlds: Where We’re Headed

3D virtual worlds (Second Life being the most prominent) never caught on in a mass market, the way that Facebook and Twitter have. I think social networks will see continued growth in adoption and usage, while the use of general-purpose, “open use” 3D virtual worlds continues to diminish.

I think “worlds” are dead. The future is all about self-contained solutions. And the future is now.

FountainBlue Virtual Worlds Panel

On September 30, 2011, I’ll be moderating the following panel for this FountainBlue event:

FountainBlue’s Third Annual Virtual Worlds Annual Conference

Topic: Virtual Worlds: Where We Were, Where We’re Going, What Does It Mean to YOU?

Date & time: Friday, September 30, from 8:30 until 10:30 a.m.

Location: EMC, 2831 Mission College Blvd., Santa Clara, in their San Francisco Conference Room on the Third Floor

Cost: $22 members, $32 partners, $42 general

Facilitator Dennis Shiao, Director of Product Marketing, INXPO
Panelist Andrea Leggett, Senior Product Marketing Manager, EMC
Presenting Entrepreneur Parvati Dev, President, Innovation in Learning
Presenting Entrepreneur Raj Raheja, Founder and CEO, Heartwood Studios

For more information and to register, visit http://www.svvirtualworlds.com.

My Premise: It’s All About Vertical Solutions

I’ll plan to float my premise to our panel and invite them to share their thoughts. The premise, of course, is that the “worlds” in “virtual worlds” is dead and the path to success (and profit) is to build focused solutions that directly solve business problems. Consumer-based virtual worlds told us that you can’t be all things to all people.

Consider the vertical approach that two panelists’ companies are taking:

Innovation in Learning: Solutions (Healthcare)

  1. CliniSpace™ – Virtual Hospitals and Clinics
  2. DynaPatients™ – Virtual Patients

Heartwoord Studios: Solutions (Military)

  1. Virtual Training
  2. Handheld and Mobile Apps
  3. Immersive Marketing
  4. Augmented Reality
  5. Simulation Ready Modeling

Conclusion

Do you have thoughts to share on this topic? Feel free to join us in Santa Clara, CA on September 30th. The event is meant for “Entrepreneurs, Intrapreneurs and Investors only. No service providers please.” In addition, I invite you to use the comments section below to share your thoughts on my premise.

 

 


Stanford Media X Event: Virtual Worlds Entrepreneurs Show The Way

August 20, 2010

Introduction

Media X at Stanford University hosted a workshop titled “Cashing In on Virtual Worlds: Entrepreneurial Insights for the Healthcare Industry.” The workshop was organized by Parvati Dev and Laura Kusumoto, who combine leading edge research, expertise and hands-on experience with virtual worlds and virtual worlds platforms.

In her introductory remarks, Ms. Kusumoto provided a perspective on the current state of virtual worlds. While the consumer-focused virtual worlds have seen notable platform closures (e.g. Google Lively, Metaplace, There.com, etc.), there has been positive activity on the enterprise side of virtual worlds, including virtual events and virtual trade shows.

Virtual Worlds: On An Upswing?

Kusumoto referenced a recent Gartner Hype Cycle Report that positioned “public virtual worlds” in a phase of “Trough of Disillusionment.”  The good news is that the subsequent phases are called “Slope of Enlightenment” and “Plateau of Productivity.”  Web 2.0, Tablet PCs and Wikis are positioned in this “Slope of Enlightenment” phase in Gartner’s cycle.

In the afternoon, we heard 5-minute pitches from entrepreneurs who were looking to launch virtual worlds businesses related to health care. These entrepreneurs showed me how virtual worlds (and notably, the surviving virtual worlds platforms) can embark on an upward path towards enlightenment.  Here’s my view on how virtual worlds are evolving:

Circling back to the Gartner Hype Cycle, I look back at the following progression:

  1. Technology Trigger: Artists and Hobbyists discover this technology for self-expression
  2. Peak of Inflated Expectations: Fortune 500 brands enter the mix, expecting a transformation of marketing and advertising
  3. Trough of Disillusionment: An assortment of virtual worlds platforms fold
  4. Slope of Enlightenment: Entrepreneurs develop innovative businesses that ride on top of virtual worlds platforms

The entrepreneurs who presented are leading the way towards enlightenment and the virtual worlds platforms (e.g. Second Life, Unity, OLIVE, etc.) stand to benefit.  The new business model is the purchasing of virtual land (or, the licensing of virtual world platform technology) that entrepreneurs leverage to drive monetization and revenue.

In a sense, this is similar to the smartphone app store – the entrepreneur creates intellectual property that rides on top of a “platform”.  The entrepreneur then leverages that platform to drive revenue to a direct sales channel (customers).

Noted Entrepreneurs

I’d like to highlight some of the presenting entrepreneurs (and their businesses).

Club One Island

Lose weight in a virtual world, on Club One IslandCeleste DeVaneaux gave a fascinating overview of how participation in a virtual world program can facilitate habit change.  It’s one thing to urge people to eat slower – it’s another thing to show them how.  And, to have their own avatars practice the habit of doing so.  Club One Island runs on top of the Second Life platform.

Related: How I lost 20 pounds in Second Life (featuring Club One Island – by Hypergrid Business)

CliniSpace


CliniSpace is a collaborative virtual medical environment created by Innovation in Learning, Inc. (the company led by Parvati Dev, one of the event’s organizers).  The goal of CliniSpace is to provide virtual world-based training to physicians, nursing students, etc.  A virtual patient can start out completely healthy, but then be programmed to worsen, such that s/he requires CPR within 15 minutes.  The service runs on top of the Unity platform.

InWorld Solutions


InWorld Solutions “incorporates a wide range of avatars, content and features specifically designed to facilitate clinical and educational applications.”  InWorld can facilitate treatment for substance abuse by having patients in a virtual world, with their doctors observing from the same physical space – or, from within the virtual world.  Patients can experience peer pressure (virtually) and be advised and coached on how to respond.  InWorld runs on top of Forterra’s OLIVE platform.

Conclusion

These were just a few of the innovative business concepts brewing in one particular industry (health care) around virtual worlds.  As more entrepreneurs launch virtual worlds businesses, the platform vendors (e.g. Linden Lab / Second Life, Unity, Forterra / OLIVE) stand to benefit.  And importantly in this vertical, another entity stands to benefit: the human condition.

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Launch Your Next Product Online

December 22, 2008

In 2008, I worked with a few savvy technology vendors to launch their products online in a virtual event.  We called these “virtual launch events”.  They were hugely successful – the vendors generated a slew of net new sales leads, educated prospects and customers about the features of the new product and connected employees, executives and channel partners directly with the same prospects and customers.

Because all users participated online, costs were efficient and the participation was highly convenient.  Additionally, the vendors and their partners were able to achieve deep (online) engagement with prospects, including in-depth text chats regarding the products.

If you’re considering a virtual launch event of your own for 2009, here are my Top 3 best practices:

  1. Encourage participation from your partner ecosystem – your resellers, consultants, etc. should have booths at the event.  This reinforces the full “value chain” of your product – showing prospects that your solution is backed by an assortment of partners who sell the product and provide valuable services around it.  Secondly, you can recoup some of the costs of the event by charging your partners to exhibit.  After all, they’re receiving sales leads as a result of participating.
  2. Active participation from your executive team – have the SVP or GM of your product officially launch the product via video – prospects and customers will apprecitate the personal connection of video (vs. slides and audio).  In addition, have the same exec(s) participate in the booths and networking areas, connecting directly with attendees.  Customers and prospects highly value direct access to your executivies.  And, your SVP or GM will find the experience valuable, since they’d likely admit that they’d like to get out in front of clients more often.  Finally, a successful event makes you a hero in front of the SVP/GM.
  3. Bring an independent voice – you probably have relationships with analyst firms (e.g. Forrester, Gartner).  Have a prominent analyst give her perspective on the product you’re launching and what it means for your market.  This independent voice helps complement all of your (and our partners’) presentations.

Best of luck on your 2009 launches!


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