Huge brands like Amazon aren’t the only ones struggling to weed out fake reiews. 4 in 10 UK businesses are being slated by online reviews to the point where it’s damaging their reputation and customer reach.

Some brands have come under fire for buying fake reviews to inflate their brand reputation and product quality. But a new trend of negative fake reviews are destroying small businesses at a time when online sales are their only saving grace.

It’s not just the little guys. In a blog post last week, Amazon announced that some sellers are turning to outside platforms to solicit fake reviews, which has made it more challenging for them to gatekeep authenticity and stamp out these unethical practices in the marketplace. In order to combat fake reviews, Amazon adds a Verified Purchase label to reviews where the reviewer has actually purchased the product, but it’s just not enough. Now the US giant is asking social media companies to help combat fake reviews because of the sheer scale of the problem. 

A Which? investigation found multiple sites offering fake Amazon Marketplace reviews from as little as £5 each, prompting margin-hungry sellers to do whatever it takes to get ahead. If one of the world’s biggest companies is facing this issue, how can small businesses protect themselves?

In the UK, online sales have increased sharply from less than 20% before the pandemic to 40% of all sales. Marketplaces are a major contributor of this surge, with these platforms responsible for 55% of the global eCommerce market in 2020. Research from detected says 84% of customers check the credibility of an online seller before buying.

60% of respondents who said their trust in online reviews had fallen compared to three years ago. 72% also shared that they would never shop with a brand again after a poor experience. So all it takes is one bad review to potentially turn off hundreds, if not thousands, of potential customers. 

A new report has found that 48% of UK businesses felt an impact on their company’s reputation and sales in the last year due to negative content about their brand online. 39% of companies are being affected by fake online reviews and 71% believe negative social media is the most damaging content to their company reputation. 

Fake or negative online reviews are now seen as the biggest threat to the reputation of UK businesses in 2021.

A staggering 68% of businesses are now worried about fake reviews and 84% of managers say online reviews are critical to the financial and reputational state of their business. However, the data shows 47% of businesses do not actively deal with or respond to their online reviews.

Additionally, 71% of businesses say critical posts and malicious comments on social media are the most damaging form of online content to their business - across platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tiktok, Pinterest, YouTube, and Reddit.

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The biggest threats to business reputation in 2021

The pandemic has taught millions of businesses the value of having an online presence. As such, the biggest threats to a business’s reputation in 2021 are all related to how they are perceived online. These include:

1. Negative reviews
2. Online crises (including Social Media crises)
3. Offline crises (e.g. operational or product failure)
4. Other businesses undercutting
5. Incidents with employees or board members
6. Lack of company social media activity

In 2021, negative online content about brands, such as social media or negative press coverage, is now a bigger threat to business reputation than operational issues like pricing, product failures or employee conduct.

However, 25% of businesses do not currently monitor their company’s online reputation through appropriate monitoring tools. In fact, 28% of the UK managers surveyed did not believe their business has been affected by negative online content.

“We know the importance of online reputation to brands and businesses, and as specialists, we monitor changes closely. We’ve been tracking the causes of reputational risk for over ten years and it’s interesting to see the worry that negative, or worse still fake, reviews are causing, but we know there are lots of options that can be done,” Simon Wadsworth, managing director of Igniyte, the company that commissioned the research, says.

Threats both offline and online are affecting UK brands and businesses – often with huge financial implications, he explains. Tackling these often requires specialist help, starting with effective monitoring and auditing and including ongoing work to create and maintain a robust brand image – for individuals and businesses.

Miles Bentley, head of marketing at Yoono, a brand-new start-up that offers reputation reports, believes your online reputation can be what makes or breaks you, whether an individual, a business, or a brand. “In today’s digital world, people can find out a lot about you with a few searches, and we know how damaging that can be,” he says. 

“Critical customer reviews, negative social media comments and bad press are a much bigger problem for businesses than you might think, with many people using this information as a reason to not do business with them. Taking control of your reputation is really important, and one of the first steps is knowing what is being said about you, and what are your priorities.”