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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.

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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 to hear from you. Literally. For innocent reasons

(SOCIAL MEDIA) As if Facebook didn’t already own everything that is you, they are asking to hear you say a specific phrase for their new voice services.

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facebook portal

Good news, Facebook is now offering to pay you to let strangers listen to you! Well, kind of.

Users connect to Viewpoints – a different app under the Facebook umbrella – which allows them to participate in market research. In this case, participants repeat the phrase “Hey Portal, call,” followed by the name of a Facebook friend, and submit the recording. The whole ordeal is about five minutes, tops.

By finishing this and other tasks, participants can expect to make a grand total of…$5. It’s not much, but at least that’s a fancy cup of coffee for work you can do while waiting for the ads to finish on your TV show.

So, why is Facebook shelling out $5 for people to make voice recordings? Surprisingly, it’s because AI is not nearly as smart as we sometimes assume – especially when it comes to voice commands. There’s a whole host of things that go into how we communicate, like posture, tone and even slang, which can make understanding vocal commands a much bigger ordeal.

In order to make improvements to the system, it often requires teams of humans putting in the leg-work. This means studying the disconnect between humans and machines, as well as creating solutions. Unfortunately, this human touch is also the excuse companies like Amazon use to justify listening in on your conversations. (Sure, users can ‘opt out’ but come on. That’s not exactly something Amazon advertises.)

As more people grow aware of the potential breach of privacy that tech like Alexa or Portal can bring, however, it’s put pressure on companies to scale back. Which is where Facebook’s new paid survey comes in. Unlike an anonymous employee listening in on a random Portal conversation, this way participants opt in, rather than out, of having their information shared.

The academic in me is slightly skeptical. There’s only so far a paid study like this can get, especially when it comes to the nuances of voice command. The conspiracy theorist in me is also skeptical, mostly because although Facebook promises they won’t sell your information or publicly share it, there’s still plenty of nefarious things to be done. That said, at the end of the day, at least Facebook isn’t just swiping information off your Portal…and you even get some pocket change in exchange.

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Facebook beta features fresh friendly facade you can try out

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Facebook is trying to change it’s image, literally. They already changed their logo, now is time for a new design you can see in the beta.

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After sixteen years in the game, Facebook is getting a facelift. Facebook has been working on a redesign for quite some time and they’re finally starting to roll out a beta. Facebook is taking the rollout slow, so it looks like just a few users are seeing the redesign and the rest of us will have to wait. Want to be among the first to test out the new look? Here’s how you can, maybe, make it happen.

If you are one of the lucky few who has been selected to beta test, then getting the new design should be simple. When you log into your account (as if you ever log out) a pop up will prompt you to try out the new beta. If this doesn’t happen, and you’re still feeling optimistic, then turn your eye to the upper right-hand corner of your screen and look for a button labeled “See Facebook Beta.” Still no button, but want to keep the hope alive? Click the drop-down arrow in the right-hand corner of your screen and see if the Facebook Beta option appears in the dropdown. Nothing yet? Tough luck, kid. You have not been chosen.

If the new design is available to you, then Facebook will offer to give you a tour of the new system. The fresh UI aims to simplify the user experience by making the page less cluttered and easier to navigate. Icons will be sleeker and brighter and it should be easier than ever to access your Messenger conversations. And if you decide that you kind of hate the new design, no big deal. Users will have the option to switch back to the classic design, at least while the redesign is still in beta.

Platform redesigns are always a contentious topic of conversation for users. Twitter, in particular, has seen some user drama over its redesigns through the years. Sometimes a redesign will knock out your favorite feature or make a shortcut you used to take in a workflow pointless. And, honestly, sometimes people just don’t like change. Whatever side of the coin you’re on, let us know how you feel about Facebook’s new look.

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Google takes a shot at competing with TikTok, Pinterest videos

(SOCIAL MEDIA) We all love to sit and watch short videos, be they humorous, reactionary, or weird, but here is Googles attempt to get educational with Tangi.

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Tangi screenshot

It’s happened to anyone who’s ever been looking online for how-to help… you click on a likely-sounding YouTube video, only to be greeted by an ad you can’t skip, a whole lot of introductory chit-chat, and three minutes of build-up before you finally see exactly what you need to do to handle your would-be DIY hack.

But what if you could get your answer in 60 seconds or less? It’s the concept behind Tangi, a newly released Google app created in the company’s Area 120 incubator by developer Coco Mao.

Variously described as short-form YouTube, video Pinterest, or TikTok for makers, Tangi was inspired by Mao discovering that her “smartphone challenged” parents were using their devices to watch photography and painting tutorials—and developing new hobbies as a result.

She came back to Google and worked with her team to develop Tangi as a place where such how-to inspiration could be more easily found and taken advantage of. “The name is inspired by the words TeAch aNd Give,” she explained as she introduced the app at the end of January. “’Tangible’—things you can make.”

The philosophy behind Tangi means this is hands-on how-to for the crafty club. The time-lapse heavy videos “could quickly get a point across,” Mao said, “something that used to take a long time to learn with just text and images.”

Videos fall into categories of art, cooking, DIY, fashion and beauty, and lifestyle, and are often accompanied by links to recipes or the maker’s blog or Instagram for more information. Some makers don’t quite have the format down pat yet, but most manage to provide a good balance of visual inspiration and a little more information.

And like Pinterest, Tangi can turn into a time-lapsing rabbit hole of its own. I started with a mere 10-second clip on propagating succulents (I’ve been doing it wrong), which led to a minute on “when succulents stretch” (“etiolation” — new vocabulary word!), which led to a succulent cake which led to a conversation heart cake and before I knew it, 20 minutes had gone by and I was watching an exploding heart science Valentine and had washed up at “Yoda one for me.”

While the app has only been out for about a week … and is only available on iOS and the web … it’s already well populated with content from makers and lifestyle bloggers who partnered with Mao’s team during the development process. And though it’s still in closed-beta mode for content creators, users can apply to be on a waitlist to be invited to upload their own work.

There are a few question marks still. No word on when it will be available on Google’s own Android platform, for one thing. While a couple of intrepid contributors are reviewing education apps and dispensing startup advice, its philosophy as stated by team lead Mao may not extend much more beyond the maker and creative fields to include technology and workplace input. And Google doesn’t always support its apps for long.

But it’s fun, simple, and easy on the eyes. As a place to find quick inspiration and direction, Tangi could carve out a niche.

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