Why user comments can no longer be trusted

Information on the web is only good if it can be established as truth. While most people do try and cross check facts, people rely heavily on user generated opinions to assist them to make a decision. Consider a purchase you might make on Ebay, do you trust the seller? Would you believe Ebay alone if they told you the seller was creditable? Highly unlikely, instead you base your trust on the feedback given by other shoppers. These are your peers.

In this dog eat dog consumer world, marketing hype is much less effective as a selling tool than it used to be 10 years ago. This is because companies have abused marketing hype. They’ll tell you just about anything to make their products sound good, often they don’t live up to the hype. Examples can be found everywhere, and in every sector from banking, retail, cosmetics.

When e-commerce first started taking off some people were concerned that it wouldn’t work. Who would buy a product without being able to “touch it” or make sure it wasn’t broken, or make sure it operated as expected? Things have changed, and the web is an excellent place to shop. However the bottom line is consumers won’t buy goods without a certain level of trust, and this varies from consumer to consumer.

It makes sense then that user opinions are crucial to assisting to establish trust. Most web sites now allow users to add their comments or even rate a product. This has been around for a while now, and the system has been working great, up until now.

We’ve entered a new era where the marketing hype has found a way to creep into the user driven content and this is a sad time for all. Companies are adjusting their strategies and finding ways to impersonate users, to make their products more favorable. This problem has existed for some time, but it has never been a modern trend. It has always been considered unethical, but it seems we’re now crossing the line.

It’s like this company A produces goods B, users C,D and E now comment on how great the goods are. User F comes along and decides C,D and E can’t be wrong, and purchases the goods. So how do companies impersonate C,D and E? It is very easy they simply create user accounts and post realistic feedback about their product. Some companies might have whole marketing departments dedicated to this. Others have found ways to automate the posting using clever scripts which means they can cover more ground quickly.

So where does that leave us? It leaves the average guy like you and me with a broken sense of trust. It means we now have to be realistic and cross check everything, and not relying too heavily on user feedback, no matter how trust worthy it might sound.

They’ll bog you down with sheer volume! 1 or 2 favorable opinions might not sway you, but 50 or 100 would. We are going to have to find more creative ways to ensure something works as expected or if the product is right for us.

Here are some important tips to consider:

1. Never trust any official review you might read, that isn’t completely objective about the product.

2. Don’t get caught up in user comment emotion, even if you think it is real, it could very easily be marketing hype.

3. Be weary on forums too, try to cross check every fact. Don’t just accept “Yes I love this product, buy it!” or “This product is great, you won’t be sorry”.

4. Always browse the support forums to a product you might buy. Here is where you’ll pick up invaluable info about what issues the product has and how you can expect the issues to be resolved.

5. Where possible try get a 30 day money back guarantee, you’ll lose some money on having to post the product back, but it is a little bit better than getting stuck with goods that don’t work as presented.

6. Only ever buy from places that you can trust to assist you, should you encounter any problems with your goods.

7. Enquire by email first, or better yet use the phone. Don’t like the response you get, don’t buy the goods.

The situation is getting black and nasty. Companies could even be posting negative reviews on competition products. They could be in the business of posting fake support questions or fake issues on competition product forums. Niche forum sites could also be targeted. As you can imagine, things won’t improve and the whole user comment infrastructure will be wrecked. There is no quick and easy solution to this, but as greed sets in, we will need a way to establish trust.

Sorry to say, but crap like this paves the way to the internet ID. While the internet ID might solve temporary problems. It is only a temporary solution at best, but it will crack down on a lot of the drive by posting that is possible today.

One thought on “Why user comments can no longer be trusted

  1. user comments on product sites are invaluable to me as a consumer, and I never rely any any single source. I’m not claiming I’m always right but the stink of phony can usually be sniffed out.

    Or maybe I’M a shill.

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