Some companies have been covertly paying consumers to write positive reviews online for years now. Is it unethical? Yes. But do some companies do it anyway? Yes. Last week, computer and electronics accessory maker Belkin was caught in the act of soliciting positive reviews for its products from anyone who was willing to write them through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.
Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is an online marketplace of workers. Companies can create tasks then post those tasks on Mechanical Turk for workers around the world to complete. Each task has a payment amount associated with it. In the case of Belkin, an employee posted a request for workers to write positive reviews about a specific Belkin product. The task made it clear that workers were to give the product a score of 5 out of 5 (or 100%), the highest score possible, and regardless of whether or not they had ever used or owned the product, they were required to pretend that they did. But that’s not all. The task also required workers to mark other negative reviews as unhelpful. The pay for completing the task has been reported as $0.65 per positive review.
As it turns out, Belkin has been soliciting positive reviews for awhile, and the company has also been paying people to write positive reviews on a variety of sites, including Buy.com and Newegg. As you can imagine, once the cat was out of the bag and a screenshot of the actual task (see it here) began circulating across the Internet, the Belkin president, Mark Reynoso, had to respond and apologize (read his apology letter here). However, the negative PR wouldn’t stop there. Next, a Belkin employee spilled the beans to Gizmodo, telling them that Belkin has been soliciting and paying for positive consumer reviews for a very long time (read it here).
This incident tells us two important things. First, be ethical. If you’re not ethical, you’ll get caught eventually, particularly today when so much information is easily accessible online. Second, if consumers aren’t happy with the performance of your products and services, fix those products and services. By tricking consumers into buying your existing products and services that you know people don’t like, you’re only doing a disservice to consumers and further damaging your brand image.
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