[quote]The norm will soon become brands that don’t have reviews, will be seen as untrustworthy.[/quote] People rely, perhaps more than ever, on online reviews when making decisions on a wide range of purchases like leisure activities, big-ticket buys and even household items. Despite the impact that reviews take on a brand’s reputation, managing them is often the purview of various divisions from e-commerce to marketing divisions. [caption id="attachment_2080" align="alignright" width="150"]Lisa Pearson Lisa Pearson[/caption] No matter who’s ultimately in charge, review sites wield considerable influence on sales and increasingly groups are calling for more transparency into how these reviews are gathered, vetted and organized. Lisa Pearson, CMO of the review platform Bazaarvoice, talks about why consumer trust in reviews will erode without better authenticity standards. The company’s PR lead Matt Krebsbach also joined the conversation. In2: Should all brands enable crowd-sourced reviews? Lisa Pearson: The norm will soon become brands that don’t have reviews, will be seen as untrustworthy. From a consumer standpoint, it’s becoming more and more common. If you look at Millennials, they are a generation, in general, that doesn’t trust brand messaging. They are looking for reviews from friends and family and take recommendations from strangers. In2: So what counts as a review today? Obviously there are sites like Yelp, but what about a one-off post on a social channel? LP: The definition of a review is much more expansive than ever. Yes, you have Yelp, TripAdvisor and reviews within a brand’s own website. But there is also a shift of reviews being told in photos and videos. For example, consumers are sharing photos on Instagram, Twitter and other social platforms that, in essence, evangelize how they use or experience a product in their everyday life and that makes those images stand out from the typical studio-photographed images used in marketing collateral. The opportunity for brands to tap into that imagery opens the door to a whole new way for people to discover, evaluate and interact with products online. In2: Hill + Knowlton’s Peter Zandon published a report last year asking communications to take the lead on establishing standards that review sites should employ to ensure the integrity of crowd-sourced reviews. Do you think more transparency is needed around reviews? LP:   We are in the business of protecting the integrity of reviews and making sure consumers have visibility into which reviews to trust. Two years ago, we started to seem some backlash on other reviews platforms and thought we had an opportunity and a responsibility to take a leadership stance. We developed our authenticity policy, which has three main standards that must be met for reviews displayed on the websites of Bazaarvoice clients. At a high level, those standards are: that reviews are free of fraud and spam; they have not been edited or ‘cherry picked’; and they are transparent, meaning unbiased reviews must identify if they were incentivized or written by someone with a material connection to the company. We would like to see every company adopt those standards. We collaborated with WOMMA, which used our authenticity policy as the model for the authenticity guidelines in their code of ethics. We also were a lead participant with AFNOR in Europe, where we helped to create governing rules and a certification process for user-generated content. In2: Your customers can display the Bazaarvoice Trust Mark seal to vouch for the integrity of their reviews? Matt Krebsbach:  Our customers adhere to our authenticity policy and as long as they remain compliant with our processes and best practices they can use the Trust Mark on their site. When we start our relationship, we explain in great detail the principles behind authenticity, like you don’t want to delete negative reviews or have people alter the content. The Trust Mark denotes that the reviews on the site are managed by Bazaarvoice as a neutral third party and that they comply with our authenticity standards, which helps assure the reader that the reviews are free from fraud, edits and have transparency. In2: What are the best ways to ensure authenticity? MK: There are lots of ways to verify authenticity but no single method is perfect. For example, matching a review to a ‘verified purchase’ helps confirm that the reviewer bought the product. However, the ‘verified purchase’ approach isn’t fool-proof and using it as the only way to collect reviews means that you’re likely leaving out legitimate reviews from people who received a product as a gift, for example. There has also been research around using linguistics to identify markers that suggest a review is fake. But, at the moment, that’s a fairly low-confidence approach to analyzing authenticity. A third approach is to identify the submission source of the review and apply sophisticated analytics to identify patterns that indicate fraud. In2: Do you have any insight on who is leaving reviews? There are more people reading reviews than leaving them. LP: There are some best practices, like a company might post an interaction asking people to leave a review. We’re not about incentivizing people or gaming the system. We did a survey a few years back asking people why they leave reviews and the true reason is rooted in altruism. They want to reward the brands they like. In2: How do you keep clients from clamming up when they see negative reviews? LP: The bad reviews provide deep feedback on product development — more than social media can provide. There have been hundreds of cases where reviews brought forward a manufacturing malfunction directly from consumers. It’s like a real-time digital focus group. Photo credit: "Thumbs up" by EvanHahn