We talk a lot about self-promotion on the internet, especially in reference to social media. It’s the newest form of advertising. It is free and connects companies with customers. This last piece is especially important to vending operators as prior to this point, end users rarely had a face to go with the vending and OCS service they enjoyed daily.
The down side of being online is that customers can say whatever they want about your company. It may be good, but it may be bad, unfair or just plain untrue. That’s one of the problems with review sites and even comments posted on more personal social media sites, like Facebook. You can control what you say, but not what others say about you.
I’ll spare you the lecture on cyber bullying, and instead focus on a practice some small business were doing to promote themselves online that has gotten them into trouble. In a recent New York Times article, businesses were buying positive reviews. There was actually a growing industry driven by this practice, with companies, mainly overseas, writing positive comments about places they have never been for as low as a dollar a review. Some companies were offering customers large gift card denominations for writing about a positive experience. Service companies were requiring employees to post false claims, trying to better their online reputation.
Law enforcement is taking this type of false advertising seriously. In New York, the fines are adding up to over $350,000 and sites dedicated to reviews, like Yelp, are aggressively going after claims they believe are false. Still, it’s scary that one in seven reviews you read might actually be paid for or from a company employee.
Online reviews are today’s personal references and persuade people of all ages, but especially the millennials, to go with a business or not. Because of that fact, it is perhaps not surprising that companies view them as so important. Given the benefit of the doubt, it is possible some companies didn’t realize it was illegal to post their own reviews, and were trying to balance out reviews they felt were unfair.
No vending companies were mentioned, thank goodness, but this is something we must all be aware of. While we all want positive comments and the highest star rating, it’s not worth getting caught buying those references and ultimately being ousted in a national newspaper.