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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’s Résumé takes another shot at LinkedIn

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Facebook took another swipe at LinkedIn by introducing a new Résumé feature.

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resume On This Day load bob alice terrorism trends fine spam facebook advertising jobs earnings

Any job hunter is likely familiar with the little section somewhere during the application process where you’re asked to enter in social media information. Thankfully, Facebook is usually an optional field.

While I try to keep what the public can see of my social media profiles toned down enough as to not cause my grandmother to blush, I’m still not quite comfortable sharing my profile with prospective employers.

I’m sure many out there feel the same, and Facebook knows this.

Tinfoil hat theories aside, LinkedIn may be shaking in their boots as Facebook begins to advance their growth in the professional sector in their pursuit of social media domination.

Facebook has begun experimenting with a new Résumé/CV feature that works as an extension of your standard “Work and Education” section on a Facebook profile page, allowing users to share work experience in more detail with friends and family but most importantly: potential employers.

Luckily, the new Résumé/CV feature won’t be sharing personal photos or status updates, but will rather combine all the relevant information into a single, professional-looking package.

So far this feature appears to be rolled out to a small number of users, and it’s unclear when it will be officially launched, but this isn’t the first time Facebook has dipped their toes in the waters of the job sector, or took a jab at LinkedIn.

Several months ago, Jobs was launched, a feature that allows Business Pages to post job openings through the status composer, and keep track of them on their Page’s Jobs tab.

A Facebook spokesperson commented on the intent behind the new Résumé/CV feature, “At Facebook, we’re always building and testing new products and services.

We’re currently testing a work histories feature to continue to help people find and businesses hire for jobs on Facebook,” and so this is just the beginning of Facebook’s plan to become a one-stop-shop and create a more seamless way for people to find and get jobs.

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Tag photos, connect with friends, order food?

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Facebook seems to be sprawling into every nook and cranny of life and now, they’re infiltrating food delivery.

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food delivery facebook

Facebook is now bringing you food! Although, no one was really asking them to.

In the age of Instagram and Snapchat, Facebook is attempting to transform into more than just a social media platform. They have partnered up with food delivery services to help users order food directly from their site.

They hope to streamline the process by giving users a chance to research, get recommendations and order food without ever leaving the site.

Facebook has partnered with their existing delivery services including EatStreet, Delivery.com, DoorDash, ChowNow and Olo in addition to restaurants to fast track the process.

The scenario they imagine is that while scrolling through the newsfeed, users would feel an urge to eat and look to Facebook for their options.

After chatting up friends via Facebook Messenger to ask for the best place to go, users would visit the restaurant’s page directly, explore their menu and decide to order. When ordering, you will have the option to use one of the partnered delivery services either with an existing account or by creating a new one.

The benefit is you stay on one site the entire time. With the time you save, the food can get to you faster, which is a plus for everyone.

Assuming that people already live on Facebook 24/7, this seems like a great update. If you like getting recommendations from your favorite social media resources, it’s even better.

The problem is that in recent years their younger audiences have dropped off in favor of other sites. Regardless of what they think, not everyone is flocking to Facebook for their every need.

My guess is that this service will benefit those already using Facebook, but is less likely to draw new audiences in.

Adding more services may not be the key to success if Facebook can’t refine their other features. They have already been criticized for their ad reporting practices, though they seem to fix everything with a new algorithm.

Facebook has continued to stray away from their original intent, and food delivery won’t be their last update.

Facebook wants to be everything, but not everyone may want the same.

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Hate Facebook’s mid-roll ads? So does everyone else

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Those pesky ads that pop up in the middle of that Facebook video, aka mid-roll, seem to be grinding everyone’s gears.

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mid-roll

In an ongoing effort to monetize content, Facebook recently introduced “mid-roll” ads into videos by certain publishers, and it has now been testing that format for six months. If you aren’t a big fan of those ads interrupting your content consumption experience, you aren’t alone; publishers aren’t crazy about them either.

In a report on the program, five publishers working with Facebook’s new mid-roll ad program were sourced and all five publishers found that the program wasn’t generating the expected revenue.

One program partner made as little as $500 dollars with mid-roll ads while generating tens of millions of views on their content.

Two other partners wouldn’t specify exact revenue number, but they did acknowledge that the ad performance is below expectations. As far as cost goes, certain publishers mentioned CPMs between 15 cents and 75 cents.

That range is large because a lot of the data isn’t clear enough to evaluate their return on investment. According to the Digiday report, publishers receive data on total revenue, along with raw data on things like the number of videos that served an ad to viewers.

The lack of certain data points, along with the confusing structure of the data, makes it difficult to assess the number of monetized views and the revenue by video. For context, YouTube, as arguably the biggest player in video monetization, provides all these metrics.

Another issue is that licensing deals are cutting into margins. Facebook pays publishers, via a licensing fee, to produce and publish a certain number of videos each month. In exchange, Facebook keeps all money until it recoups the fee, after which revenue is split 55/45 between the publisher and Facebook.

While these challenges doesn’t change the fact that revenue is low, it does make it difficult to dissect costs in a meaningful way.

Why is revenue so low to begin with?

For starters, a newsfeed with enough content to feed an infinite scroll probably isn’t the best format for these kinds of ads. As a user, when I’m watching the videos and the ad interrupts the experience, I’ve always scrolled right on through to the next item on my feed. It’s a sentiment echoed by one of the publishers in the Digiday story.

Because of that, Facebook’s new Watch program, which creates a content exclusivity not found on the news feed, might produce better results in the future. Either way, Facebook will need to solve this revenue challenge for publishers, or they might pull out of the programs altogether.

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