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Sketchy new trend – hiring fake online review writers

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Unethical but seemingly common practice

Realtor reviews and testimonials have always been riddled with fakes- agents who write their own testimonials with fake accolades, touting their “integrity” and “superior service” and the like. Those inside the industry can typically spot a fake when we see the full name of the brokerage in the review (consumers typically use an agent’s name or a shortened version of the brokerage name, not Joe Bob Williams Team Realty International LLC Number One), or unnatural language that looks eerily like a real estate website template (“my number one agent provided top notch real estate negotiations in real estate transactions”).

Have consumers become hip to the sketchy reviews written by Realtors on their own sites and printed in their collateral? Most likely, yes. The good news is that the rise of social networking is rapidly changing the review methods and reviews left are tied to a person and their real identity, for example, on Facebook or Yelp. Consumers are more willing to be honest and open if they have to legitimize a review with their true identity, plus this makes it more difficult for the fake Realtor reviews of yesteryear to rise to the top. Consumers have a nose for fake, overly-floral reviews and expect natural language.

The new sketchy trend is for businesses (not just Realtors) to hire fake online review writers. Cruise Craigslist in your city, and you’ll see Realtors, retailers, plumbers and lenders paying $5 to $10 for a legitimate user to give them a review, so long as that user has an active Yelp account or a similar account. This gets businesses around having to make fake accounts and keep them active, instead, just pay a few bucks for a fake review. The truth is, the reviews look real, are written in natural language and are by a legitimate person, not “Thomas H. of Dallas, Texas” who has no bio or picture.

Picking up deceptive cues online

Not only is hiring fake review writers unethical, it sullies the entire review process. There is no way to tell the full extent of how many reviews online on real users’ accounts are fake, but Cornell University has studied the legitimacy of online reviews and has spotted some deceptive indicators as published in the New York Times, with human subjects unable to tell real reviews from fake reviews.

The above review doesn’t start off as strongly deceptive and appears to be in relatively natural language, but the repetition of these cues made for an obvious pattern to the Cornell researchers. Immediately, we were dubious and opened our own Yelp accounts and were shocked that none of us had started a single review with “my [spouse] and I,” even though we would say that out loud naturally. We also rarely used the actual business’ name in the reviews and didn’t use “I” and “me” very frequently (although some of us are very enthusiastic and used exclamation marks frequently, but mostly in negative reviews).

We’ll see this trend of paid reviews for people looking to make a quick buck in a down market, and Realtors are already using and will undoubtedly increase use of these willing reviewers, making for a repeat of history where agents are painted as being “number one,” having “impeccable integrity” and “superior service,” along with the new patterns in fake web reviews as discovered by Cornell researchers.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and sister news outlet, The Real Daily, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Ross Therrien, Realtor, Broker Associate

    September 8, 2011 at 7:15 am

    Someone should look into the bloggers who buy their blogs. Many on Active rain I suspect.

  2. Teresa Boardman

    September 8, 2011 at 7:31 am

    This is an old problem. Reviews are just advertising

  3. Jay Papasan

    September 8, 2011 at 10:44 am

    My wife and I enjoyed reading this article very much. The writing was clear and provocative. The perspective on our industry was insightful. This is a disturbing trend! Learning how to spot a fake is really useful and I hope we get a chance to use it. AgentGenius features the best and brightest, you can't go wrong subscribing here.

    • Lani Rosales

      September 8, 2011 at 1:41 pm

      Jay, you win bonus points, that was the PERFECT comment! lol

      • Jay Papasan

        September 12, 2011 at 10:47 am

        Glad you enjoyed it. Couldn't resist.

        • Jonathan Benya

          September 12, 2011 at 2:21 pm

          Dammit, Jay, You beat me too it! I just found the article today and I was planning on leaving a comment like yours! Curses!

  4. Kevin C, Romito

    September 8, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    I read your story with great interest. This is exactly why Realtor Reviews must be done in a closed systems (where only real customers, and in our case every actual customer, is offered the opportunity to review the agent they worked with), vs. an open system (where anyone can complete a review, be it grandma, a competitor or paid reviewer). I wanted to make sure you were aware of QualityService.org and our soon to be launched national site, ratedagent.com. This is our only business and we are truly helping the industry raise the bar in terms of customer service. Thank you!

  5. David Pylyp

    September 8, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Love the yelp reviews! Just started to circulate those. I think its easier to get a video of the client in a relaxed environment. Their own home. youtube.com/watch?v=geaDrtlizGI

    Just ask questions about their shopping adventure and treatment?

    David Pylyp
    Accredited Senior Agent Living in Toronto

  6. Jeffrey Bratton

    September 8, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Thank you for taking to the time to point this issue out. It's obvious something odd is going on when every agent on zillow has 5 star ratings.

  7. Matthew Hardy

    September 8, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    I can't imagine anyone selecting real estate representation based on reviews.

    Doctors: "My doctor is the best cutter around! REALLY sharp scalpels!"
    Accountants: "My CPA added numbers WAY better than the last guy!"
    Lawyers: awe… never-mind…

  8. Pingback: Friendly reminder to businesses: it is ILLEGAL to lie about fake reviews - AGBeat

  9. Pingback: So how’s that internet working out for you? | Real Estate News and Commentary

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Social Media

Facebook wants your nudes now to protect you from revenge porn later

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Facebook, attempting to get in front of revenge porn, is requesting that users send in all of their nudes.

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In a heroic and totally innovative attempt to combat revenge porn, Facebook has come up with the following solution: “PM US UR NUDEZ.”

No seriously. They want your nudes.

But don’t worry, they’re only going to be viewed by a small group of people for manual confirmation of said nudes, and then stored temporarily… for reasons.

That part gets a little fuzzy. Some sources report that Facebook isn’t actually storing the images, just the links. This is meant to convert the image to a digital footprint, known as a hash, which is supposed to prevent the content from being upload to Facebook again.

Others say Facebook only stores the images for a short period of time and then deletes them.

What we do know, is this is a new program being tested in Australia where Facebook has partnered with a small government agency known as e-Safety and is requesting intimate or nude photos that could potentially be used for revenge porn in an effort to pre-emptively prevent such an incident.

Revenge porn is basically when someone uploads your personal and private photos online without your consent. Rather than address the issue of whether or not it’s such a good idea to take photos on a mobile, hackable device, it’s better to just send a large corporation all your nudes… through their Messenger app. /sarcasm

For your protection.

According to the commissioner of the e-Safety office, Julie Inman Grant, however, they’re using artificial intelligence and photo-matching technologies… and storing the links!

If this isn’t convincing enough, British law firm Mishcon de Reya LLP wrote in a statement to Newsweek, “We would expect that Facebook has absolutely watertight systems to guard the privacy of victims. It is quite counter-intuitive to send such intimate images to an unknown recipient.”

Oh, she wasn’t joking.

I’m not sure how many people still hold onto old intimate photos of themselves, but I am doubtful that it’s enough for this to really be effective as it only prevents intimate photos from being shared on Facebook. At least that’s the plan.

Reactions to this announcement have largely been met with amusement and criticism ranging from commentary on Mark Zuckerberg and Co. being total pervs, and theories of shared Facebook memories: “”Happy Memories: It’s been 1 Year since you uploaded 47 pictures of you in your birthday suit”!

Either way, I can only imagine someone’s inbox is flooded with crotch shots right now, and Zuckerberg has a potential new industry in the works.

Just sayin’.

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Social Media

Twitter might make a profit for the first time… ever

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Twitter seems to be very popular but it may surprise you to know that this is the very first time they might make a profit.

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Twitter reports that after a year of slashing expenses and putting itself in a position to sell data to other companies, it’s expected to be profitable. What’s surprising (considering how #huge Twitter is) is that this the first time that it will be profitable based on “generally accepted accounting principles” – #GAAP!.

In the 11 years since Twitter took to the field, it has never once met this standard, operating at a loss of nearly 2.5 billion dollars since its inception.

Twitter has struggled of a number of reasons, but particularly after going public in 2013 it suffered declining user growth, the rise of the #twittertrolls (coincidentally, Troll’s are discussed in my favorite TIME piece about the internet – located here), and competition from Facebook for the tough realm of advertising.

Since 2013, shares fell steadily, but things have increased thanks to some optimistic changes – the promise to crack down on harassment and abuse, a feed arranged by algorithm instead of time, and Twitter’s most vocal fan of late, President Donald Trump.

For the numbers fans, Reuters provides some input: Twitter’s loss narrowed to about 21 million down from 103 million this year. They have worked to cut a great deal of expenses -16 percent across the board broadly impacting sales, marketing, and R&D.

This kind of focused core improvement (can) help tip the balance sheet on the expenses side – but generating revenues remains a challenge due to slow growth. Twitter hopes to relieve this by working out some deals to sell data – the currency of the 21st century.

Several months ago, TechCrunch made perhaps the most important observation – that despite the fact Twitter has changed the world, changed our marketing, and empowered us to connect with other people, it has remained unprofitable. Many small and large businesses profit from Twitter, but in these 11 years the company hasn’t #sharedinthewealth.

Twitter is touching every realm of business and for American’s, is touching every aspect of their lives given its new form as the preferred medium of the political sphere. Given that, they have much to do to change.

Facebook commands an audience five times the size of Twitter – and their ability to reach success for the future seems #questionable. And how Twitter’s success changes the scape of influence, outreach, and entrepreneurship is something else to be seen.

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Is Facebook a potential Slack killer?

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Facebook’s steady ascent from social networking into the business world is giving Slack a run for their money.

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When it comes to the business realm, Facebook has steadily been increasing their reputation. Though Facebook is pinned as the social network, they are now proving to everyone that they can dominate in the professional sector as well.

Last year, Facebook launched an ad-free version of the site meant for the office called Workplace. Initially, 1,000 companies were signed on to try out this “Facebook for the office” in its starter phase.

As of last week, Facebook announced that 30,000 organizations currently use Workplace. These aren’t just small time companies. Some of Workplace’s users include Starbucks, Lyft, Spotify, Heineken, Delta and most recently Walmart.

It seems that overnight it grew from another side project to a valid rival for other professional communication tools like Slack.

Slack is the go-to site for business professionals. With over 6 million users and acquiring more every day, Slack is the place for teams to collaborate in real-time. It has virtually replaced email and external software when it comes to internal communication.

Slack has been successful at acquiring small corporations to use their service.

The problem is that Slack has yet to join forces with larger clients that have now turned to other applications. Just last year, Uber left Slack because they could not handle their large-scale communication needs.

In addition to being able to handle the needs of large companies, Facebook also offers cheaper services than Slack. A premium account with Workplace costs $3 per user each month while Slack charges double at $6.67 per user each month.

With the rapid growth and major reputation of Facebook behind it, many predict that Workplace will replace Slack, and other sites like it, in the not so distant future.

Recently, Facebook also launched the Workplace desktop app and plan to include group video chat. The biggest obstacle Workplace faces is the association with Facebook. It is ironic, since it is also their greatest strength.

The truth remains that many people think of Facebook solely as a social media network. Many companies forbid the use of it at work so the transition from the personal to the professional realm is still an uphill battle.

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