Some lawyers may not realize that creating fake reviews is illegal and has serious consequences. In this episode of Lunch Hour Legal Marketing, hosts Gyi Tsakalakis and Kelly Street talk to Jason Brown, founder of reviewfraud.org, about his work investigating fraudulent reviews. They define what constitutes a fake review and discuss the most common instances of abuse found in the legal community.
Jason Brown is the SEO manager at Over the Top Marketing and founder of www.reviewfraud.org.
Lunch Hour Legal Marketing
Review Fraud Exposing Lawyers who Mislead Consumers
Gyi Tsakalakis: Hey there, Kelly.
Kelly Street: Hey there Gyi. Y’all ready for this? Yeah.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Acapella.
Kelly Street: Oh, I just watched ‘Pitch Perfect’. Eh.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Wooh.
Kelly Street: I wish words were easier to say. I just watched ‘Pitch Perfect 2’ last night and it was great, that’s my review. My review of ‘Pitch Perfect 2’ was that it was so great.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Now, Peter Piper Picks Peppers but we rock rhymes. Who was that?
Kelly Street: I don’t know, was that from ‘Pitch Perfect’?
Gyi Tsakalakis: No.
Kelly Street: It’s just a rap.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Yeah. Peter Piper Picks Peppers. I’m actually embarrassed that I can’t — is that Run-DMC? It is, I got it, yes.
Kelly Street: My review of your rendition of Run-DMC’s rap is 2.5 stars.
Gyi Tsakalakis: It’s 2.5 stars for me, that’s pretty bad.
Kelly Street: I mean you didn’t remember all of the lyrics, it seemed, maybe you did.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Well, I got it wrong, run run, rhymes but, okay, fair enough, 2.5.
Kelly Street: Yeah, so 2.5 stars.
Gyi Tsakalakis: All right. Leave me a review.
Kelly Street: Will do — will do, I’ll leave it on your Gyi Rocks Yelp page.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Leave it on Facebook, please.
Kelly Street: It’s where everybody goes for reviewing things. Speaking of reviews, I just introduced you to the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer reviews.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Yes. Do you own one of these banana slicers?
Kelly Street: No, I do not.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Okay.
Kelly Street: I’m assuming you don’t because if you had —
Gyi Tsakalakis: I would have heard of it.
Kelly Street: Yeah, and you would have read all the reviews.
Gyi Tsakalakis: All 5700 of them.
Kelly Street: Yes, yes indeed. And they’re — I mean they’re just so great, 5 stars, amazing. Wow, this thing is totally amazing. Before I bought this I could only slice two BPH (Bananas Per Hour), but with using this I can now slice 1,300 to 1,500 BPH, that’s the average slicing speed of Harvard graduates, you know.
Gyi Tsakalakis: No way, no way they are doing 1,500 BPH.
Kelly Street: Yeah, 1,500 bananas per hour. I mean, it’s a real thingy.
Gyi Tsakalakis: I want to see that.
Kelly Street: How many bananas can you slice per hour?
Gyi Tsakalakis: A lot, way more than two but by hand even, but no way 1,500. Are there videos of this 1,500 BPH?
Kelly Street: No, they didn’t include a video with it. That would have made the review more legitimate because that’s the thing about reviews.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Fake reviews.
Kelly Street: Fake reviews, yeah.
Gyi Tsakalakis: It’s a real problem.
Kelly Street: How much do you trust reviews?
Gyi Tsakalakis: Well, I’m totally poisoned because we do this for a living, so I literally look at lawyer reviews almost every day, and yeah, it’s a disaster and nobody seems to want to be accountable for fixing this problem, except for one person does.
Kelly Street: One person does. He’s out there, we need to get him a crime-fighting uniform like a nice unit hard that has I don’t know what would his superhero name be?
Gyi Tsakalakis: Well, I know that it’s somewhere in there in the uniform we need to have #stopcraponthemap.
Kelly Street: Yes, yup, that can be like on the fabulous cape that he would wear just flowing in the breeze, stop crap on the map.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Yeah, I mean, he’s out there fighting the good fight.
Kelly Street: He is. He is. I’m going to be Jason’s sidekick. By the way, that’s who we’re talking to today, Jason Brown, review crime fighter.
Gyi Tsakalakis: What’s your sidekick name?
Kelly Street: I don’t know. We didn’t even come up with a name for him but anyway, why doesn’t everyone leave us a handy-dandy review on Apple podcasts or Google podcasts or anywhere else you can leave a review for a podcast.
Gyi Tsakalakis: We are going to see if you’re listening, you can leave a review for the podcast but also for my Run-DMC rap.
Kelly Street: And also include in there what you think my crime-fighting sidekick name should be.
Gyi Tsakalakis: That’s we will know if you’re listening now.
Kelly Street: Exactly. Way to test our audience.
Gyi Tsakalakis: And while you’re off leaving a review, let’s listen in to this latest episode of Lunch Hour Legal Marketing.
Intro: Welcome to Lunch Hour Legal Marketing, with your hosts Gyi Tsakalakis and Kelly Street, teaching you how to promote market and make fat stacks for your legal practice, here on Legal Talk Network.
Gyi Tsakalakis: So welcome everyone to Lunch Hour Legal Marketing. Today’s topic is one that comes up a lot for us, and we are very excited to have in my opinion the foremost expert on this topic, Jason Brown, who is the founder of reviewfraud.org, and we’re talking fake reviews as it pertains to the legal sector.
And we’re going to get into a lot of the details of some of the things that we see but I wanted to take a moment to thank Jason and let Jason tell everybody a little bit about himself, Jason Brown.
Jason Brown: Thank you Gyi for that awesome introduction. Again, my name is Jason Brown. I have been working in SEO for 13 years now. In the last three years, I’ve been focused — hyper-focused on local SEO. In the last few years, I’ve been really looking into fake listings and fake reviews and in the last year or so, I have become what was the Google My Business Top Contributor program which has now been rebranded as a product expert.
So, I help out in my spare time with users that are having issues regarding listing issues or negative reviews or fake positive reviews. So that’s kind of who I am and what I like to do.
Kelly Street: Awesome. I as well am super-excited about this. I am just so fascinated by the whole review system because on a personal — in my personal life, whenever I’m looking for a restaurant or basically anything, I like most of the rest of the people who use the Internet to find things, look at reviews and I always judge what it is that I’m looking for based on the reviews that I find and negative reviews don’t necessarily deter me from using a service, but you take a look and you see what’s going on there and so the idea of a review being fake is a little scary to someone like me who uses them so heavily.
Jason Brown: Oh, I couldn’t agree more. I think as we are getting more hyper-focused and looking at online reviews, they are playing a much larger impact on our buying decisions when we’re searching online, and I think one of the scariest things is that we as consumers don’t know what business to trust and just because Google is serving up these three packs with listings, doesn’t mean that A, it’s a real listing that they are using a real location or that B, they are not falsifying their online reviews to make themselves look better in the eyes of a potential searcher.
Kelly Street: Yeah.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Right, so let’s go to the — let’s back up because I know we’ve got listeners who are — this is brand-new for them or they think reviews, they are like, oh yeah, like on Amazon, right, and I want to make sure that listeners have a visual here. So if you are listening to this on your phone or bet your desktop or laptop, go ahead and search any kind of like legal term or legal plus practice area and you’ll see — likely you’ll see some area of the search result will contain listings of law firms that have a section for reviews which we’ll get into how those are generated.
But I think from a visual standpoint, lawyers I talked to, they don’t even realize this is like a thing, so some of them don’t know that they’re, oh, my clients never use the Internet to hire lawyers like me and some of them don’t even realize that people are already leaving reviews of them.
So I kind of want to start there on Google so that people know at least one context of what we’re talking about and then start to dive into pick apart some of the things that we just mentioned which are one and all that Jason talk about this, lawyers or their marketing companies or their competitors or somebody else are oftentimes posting fake reviews there.
So let’s take it one step at a time. Step one is there are lawyers paying marketing people whether they know it or not that are leaving fake reviews on those lower profiles. True or false, Jason?
Jason Brown: That is a 100% true.
Gyi Tsakalakis: And how big of — in your professional opinion, how big of an issue is this? How widespread maybe?
Jason Brown: Oh yeah. This is definitely a widespread issue depending on which niche in the legal space we’re talking about, especially when it comes to divorce lawyers, bankruptcy or even worse personal injury lawyers. That’s where we find the most abuse is actually taking place, because think about the fact that every potential leader call that’s coming in, it’s going to be a couple hundred dollars worth of a case.
And so everybody is trying to come up with some way that they can distinguish themselves amongst their competitors, and one of the things that people are doing and noticing is working really well is to flood their listening with a bunch of fake reviews to A, increase their overall rating so they can go from like a 3.2 average rating to a 4.7 just by dumping in 50 fake reviews and they all look super-glowing. And so then a new consumer is looking at that and going, oh, well, I want to go with a law firm with nice, I mean, reviews in a 4.7 rating then the lawyer that’s only got three reviews and a five-star rating.
Kelly Street: And I want to take another kind of step back in thinking about not only what a big problem this is, but like how are we defining or how are you defining fake reviews, because which maybe that seems like a stupid question?
Jason Brown: No, that’s a great question actually.
Kelly Street: But how are we looking at that? How are you defining what’s fake versus a real or non-fake review?
Jason Brown: Sure, sure, great question and clarification. So a fake review is any review that is left for a business that was not left by an actual client or consumer or potential client. So a lot of people think that a review is not legitimate as somebody didn’t do business with you and Google is pretty much saying, as long as you had the intention of hiring that company you are able to leave that review and as long as you’ve had like a personal interaction.
So, when we’re looking at fake reviews, we’re looking at lawyers that are exchanging reviews with other lawyers so that’s typically the first thing that we saw a lot of what is where one law firm is reviewed by 17 different lawyers, and they are just kind of like, hey, a little tit for tat, you review me, I’ll review you.
The next one is, they’re using a marketing company to create a big profile, a big persona, and I see everything from people creating Miley Cyrus’ name and her image to leave reviews for a bunch of lawyers in different states or several different businesses in multiple states or in different countries. So that’s what a fake review is that anybody that was again, not an actual customer that is leaving the review, just to make your overall rating look better, and this can also be your friends and family.
So you a lot of times are like, hey, you’re my friend, you’re my family, will you leave me review to get me a good jump-start? Well, since they’re not a customer and had no interaction with your business per se, yeah, they might be able to recommend you as a great lawyer, but they shouldn’t be leaving you a review since they can’t judge your services.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Right.
Kelly Street: Oh yes, I have actually worked for a company where someone left a negative review, it was completely just and it should have been there, they had a bad experience. And so then email blasts went out to a whole group of friends of the owner saying, hey, will you quick go online and go to our Yelp listing and leave a positive review, we got this bad and we can’t have that?
And of course, several people did it, and just — just gave you a little bit of an icky feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Not attorneys think though.
Kelly Street: No, no, this was —
Gyi Tsakalakis: Okay, all right, just checking to make sure.
Kelly Street: This was probably about eight years ago.
Gyi Tsakalakis: So there was a nuance point in there too that Jason made that I wanted to kind of let pick a part a little bit, but the platforms have different guidelines about what’s okay and what’s not okay, right?
Jason Brown: That is correct, so Yelp has actually made a violation of their terms of service to actually solicit any reviews. So if you get caught asking for any Yelp review, they will come in and go ahead and flag the account and they can put this nice little nasty warning that will last on your page for up to 90 days or longer, if they catch you soliciting reviews. Google is completely different. They try not to get into the middle of review disputes. So, if you say, hey, this isn’t a customer of mine. They’re not going to get involved in it. They’re going to look at the crux of the review itself to see if any part of the review is violating their terms of service, which is why we have the product expert forum, so that way we can kind of go a little bit deeper into the review and the profile to start seeing if we can find some of the spam tactics that we normally typically see with big review networks.
Kelly Street: Okay, but I know what you said about Yelp, but I have seen and maybe this is just if they find out the practice that they’re doing this, they punish the company. I have been at restaurants where either on their Yelp page they say leave a review, show us that you left a review for five dollars off like a little coupon, or they have a thing like that in the restaurant that says that, and so is that acceptable?
Jason Brown: No, that’s not acceptable. So actually FTC actually covers online reviews, which I think a lot of people don’t really realize, and so they have a whole policy on the FTC’s website about what can be done, and it’s actually covered under the add protocols, and so the problem is, is when you’re getting a discounted service for leaving a review, you’re supposed to as a consumer say, I received a $5 discount or I have received a free dessert for leaving this review.
Well, the normal typical consumer doesn’t know the FTC guidelines, and so that’s why the FTC has come in and said, look, you can’t do that. And Google and Yelp look at it too. They are like look, since this violates the FTC’s policies, it is also a violation of our terms of service. And so any company that’s doing the contest and the gimmicks and I see it with like an iPad giveaway. Hey, leave us a review in your drawing. The problem is, it just takes that one advertisement to get turned over to Yelp or to Google, and both platforms will come in and wipe out all of your reviews without even thinking twice about it.
Kelly Street: So something like a lawyer or a law firm could violate that by saying something like we won’t charge you for your consultation if you leave us a positive review.
Jason Brown: Correct or they could say leave us a review and we’ll give you tickets to the Michigan Football game.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Ooh, that’s compelling.
Jason Brown: If you can enter our drawing. You liked that, Gyi.
Kelly Street: Gyi would definitely leave a review for tickets.
Gyi Tsakalakis: If you want to review for tickets, just let — here’s my email, just kidding. But I think the other thing too that I’ll add just for a little bit extra flavor on this, that’s specific for lawyers, is that, lawyers have very specific professional rules, ethics rules, rules of professional conduct, I was blanking on that, and in fact, this is to me is a no-brainer falls under false and misleading advertising. And so, if you’re listening to this, and you have somebody that’s out there doing anything on your behalf in the review space, you better get very familiar with your State’s rules of professional conduct, because this can be a grievance issue. I mean, this can be an ethics violation. I mean, I think it’s pretty obvious that it is in most states and so in some areas depending on the implementation it can be a little bit gray, but the obvious quid pro quo review stuff is like a no-brainer; and unfortunately, just like I think Jason will talk about in the more general online review space, in legal the enforcement mechanism is inconsistently applied and there’s not a lot of resources there. So you see lots of lawyers doing this stuff, but there’s some serious consequences whether it’s having as depending on what you think is most valuable from your reviews getting taken down to your listing getting suspended, to an FTC problem, to losing your license type of thing.
Jason Brown: Yeah, that’s correct. So yeah, worst-case scenario, it would be handled by the FTC or you could be prosecuted by State Attorney Generals and depending on what State you are in depends on how much weight you’re going to get from the State Attorney General. Now, New York State Attorney General loves to do businesses for violating the Consumer Protection Act.
So I see them coming down cracking down hard on law firms. So, you got to think about, okay, well, it could be the State AG, it could be the local DA, or it could be the Bar Association and you could be sanctioned or lose your license. And I don’t think lawyers realize that they can actually be disbarred for this highly illegal practice.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Right, and a lot of times it’s like they hired some marketing company and the marketing company goes on and does this stuff and then they are like, oh, I surprised, but guess what, if you’re paying them to do something, there’s a good chance that under the application of the ethics rules, you’re going to be accountable for what you’ve paid these people to do.
So, ignorance is not an excuse –
Jason Brown: Bliss.
Gyi Tsakalakis: — and yeah, it’s certainly not, well, maybe it’s bliss, but it’s certainly not, you are not going to get yourself out of trouble for this stuff, and so make sure that you’re having these conversations with anybody who’s doing marketing on your firm’s behalf that you’re following guidelines, you’re familiar with the FTC guidelines, you’re familiar with your State’s rules as they pertain to testimonials and that kind of stuff, important stuff here.
Kelly Street: Okay, I just want to ask, Jason, on the ignorance is not bliss idea, so you have — on reviewfraud.org, you have several of your interviews with news organizations talking about fake reviews in Review Fraud and one of the clips on there was an interview with a plastic surgeon, I believe, in LA who, his company was caught using fake reviews and he completely claimed ignorance.
And what I am wondering, do you really think that these businesses are ignorant? Like how often do you think they really don’t know this is going on, or are they just claiming ignorance to try to have a little bit less bad PR?
Jason Brown: Yeah. So that was my favorite celebrity dentist, Dr. Rodney Raanan, and yet he played ignorant, but the problem was when he went to his yellow page, these “patients” of his were actually posting photos with the good doctor and that good doctor or somebody associated with the account was also replying to the reviews.
But yeah, they always play ignorant. Oh, I don’t know anything about that, because I mean look, who — it’s like a kid with their hand caught in the cookie jar. They are always going to say it’s not my hand in the cookie jar. You are not seeing that correctly. It wasn’t me, crumbs all over the face. Nobody really wants to fess up and say okay, look, I did this, I am responsible. I fully well knew that fake reviews were being posted.
I have only had one business that actually confessed, not only did they confess, they actually turned over the documentation from the marketing company responsible for it, because they just wanted to not be exposed on national news.
Yeah, they are going to play ignorant, just because they don’t want to get caught, and the problem is, is they are the ones paying, they are footing the bill for the service, so they can’t really say that they don’t know anything about it. Nine times out of ten it’s covered in their contracts that they are signing with the company, because you are not going to get into a contract with a marketing company without having specific breakdown of services that you are going to receive.
So they are like yeah, we are going to get you this many links, or we are going to get you this many Facebook Likes or we are going to get you this many leads and we are going to perform all these services. They are always going to say well, we are going to guarantee you X amount of reviews and so you can easily see in your contract that you are paying for a review solicitation or falsifying review service.
Kelly Street: Got it. That’s what I was thinking is there has to be something. I don’t know, Gyi, do you know, have we had any either clients or lawyers that are in your universe that have said, oh my gosh, I found out that they were soliciting fake reviews and I just caught them?
Gyi Tsakalakis: It’s rare. I mean it’s happened. Usually this is how it goes down. A competitor will either report, hopefully, if they are given the professional courtesy, they will contact the lawyer and be like hey, this is going on and we want you to know. But oftentimes too they will get a message from the platform that someone like Jason has done some investigating and found some issues. So that’s usually how it comes through is, is that they don’t realize it. And so like maybe their listing got suspended or maybe they got a notification or something that’s going on.
In my experience, a lot of the agreements, they hide this kind of stuff in the reputation management services blanket. So it might not say — it’s rare that you see a contract that says we are going to go out and generate X number of fake reviews, but if they, like Jason said, if they commit to a number of — how can you commit to a number of authentic reviews, it’s impossible. Like you have no idea how many reviews you are going to get, if they are actually organic. I can give you 10 reviews, like how do you — I don’t even know if I am going to have 10 customers this month. But it’s usually in the reputation management side.
I think another side of the coin too, because I think we have done a lot of the how serious this problem is and that it’s widespread and that there is big repercussions, tactically and constructively we should probably give listeners some advice about how to do this the right way and what to do when they see this happening for local packs from their competitors.
So one of the things that we do is, is that for our clients, if we see someone that’s a violator, our obligation is to our client and so we will take steps to try to get the spam, whether it’s a review or a listing or whatever remove because obviously if that happens, then you reshuffle the pack and you have a better chance of us coming up.
But Jason, what do you recommend business owners, lawyers to do in terms of, where permissible, how to actually try to positively impact getting authentic real reviews? Are you into some of these tools that help you — obviously — and we can talk about this too is like you can’t do the review gating anymore, which I think is an important thing to talk about, because I know a lot of lawyers like the idea of only sending happy clients to leave reviews.
Anyway, I am kind of rambling here. Let’s talk positive, tactical, how do you do this stuff?
Jason Brown: Yeah. So I have got to say you don’t want to do the review gating schemes. Those are not going to work for you. So the problem with review gating is that you are making sure that only 4 and 5 star customers are going to be requested to leave that feedback online. Google has reiterated this policy that it’s against their terms of service to do that. So if somebody gives you a 3 star review, they have to have that opportunity to leave that review on your Google listing.
But look, here is the problem with review gating. If there is an issue and you have a deficiency with your customer base, you want to know about that, otherwise if you just keep trying to deter all the negative reviews from being posted and you don’t act on that feedback, because it’s actually valid feedback, you are going to end up being like this one restaurant that I dealt with that kept posting fake reviews every month, they finally had to end up closing, because of their poor reputation, they pushed all the local people away from the restaurant.
So you want that negative feedback so you can figure out how to better improve. It’s actually an opportunity to grow and so they are just kind of looking to shy away from. And look, if Google finds out that you are review gating, they are going to come back and they are going to knock out all of your reviews back to last February when they made this policy and re-clarification.
Now, if you want to solicit positive reviews, there are some really great platforms out there. I am good friends with the team over at GatherUp. They have an awesome system. I recommend looking into them from a price point standpoint. They will get you exactly what you are needing, but ultimately you are going to find out what your customers actually think of you as a business and there’s a lot of value in that to figure out what are your strengths so you can continue to push those and where are you deficient, so you can actually fix those areas, so you can actually be a better service to your potential clients.
Gyi Tsakalakis: What an idea, actually fix the service as opposed to trying to fake reviews and make you look better than you actually are providing service. That’s some excellent advice that I know everybody will benefit from. So hopefully they take it to heart.
Kelly Street: Well, I don’t mean to be all psychology on this, but I think the thing that everybody or most people can kind of agree on with lawyers is that they are typically people who were high performing and were told because they were highly intelligent or more highly performing; I mean of course they are not those people out there, but typically fell into that category and so not having perfect reviews is quite the ego bruise and so realistically it’s hard to think about not having a perfect score or that sort of thing. So I can appreciate why review gating happens, but I really appreciate what Jason had to say about that it’s an opportunity, I really like that.
Jason Brown: Yeah. I mean here’s the thing. We all want to be perfect and when you are doing review monitoring, we actually do it for a lot of our clients, it can actually start to take a toll on your psyche and we noticed that after a while we were kind of getting like super bitter and angry. So yeah, getting negative feedback is not a great thing and it can really do damage on you, but at the same time, if you can’t look at what’s causing those negative reviews to come in and correct that ship, it’s just going to be a vicious cycle, it’s just going to continue to keep going.
And it took our urging with our client to say, hey, look, these are the pain points that need to be addressed and we finally got those pain points addressed so that we can get rid of those negative reviews, what was actually causing it.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Yeah, I think in response to a point that Kelly made, I don’t have the study at hand, but I know Amazon, they did a big study on the impact of reviews that weren’t all five stars and I think that they could, correct me if I am wrong, if you are listening to this and you want to tweet at me later that I am wrong, it’s fine, but I recall that the consumers recognize that there’s more authenticity baked in when they see a variation in reviews.
So part of this is, everybody loves the idea of all perfect reviews, everything is glowing, but there is a certain lack of authenticity when you have just positive reviews or even worse I think, if it’s obvious to a consumer that the reviews are fake, like you are already communicating that you are not that trustworthy in the first place.
So like I see some of these reviews, and in fairness, my — because we do this and we see this all the time, my lens of looking at these reviews is probably different than the average consumers, but you can tell right away the lawyers or any business, when you see these fake reviews and immediately I like put on the, oh, I probably don’t want to work with them, because if they are willing to fake these reviews, they are probably willing to make some other decisions that are not the most sound, perhaps even as my lawyer business service provider.
Jason Brown: Right, and that’s correct, and there’s been quite a few studies, and BrightLocal is actually the leading expert on online review stats and they have actually found with consumer studies that consumers are wanting to see multiple aspects when it comes to reviews.
So one, they want to look at the frequency of reviews. So consumers are more forgiving of reviews that are three months or older. They also know that not every business is going to be 100% perfect and you are not going to be able to please everybody and they are actually going to take time to look at the reviews and see what people are actually saying to see if it actually is a valid and legitimate complaint or if it’s just somebody that’s just super picky.
And here’s the other thing, they are also going to look at the business’ review replies and if you are coming in just completely upset and you just have a nasty tone in that reply, well, potential customers are going to see that reply and they are going to judge your business more on your reply than actually what was in the negative review.
So you actually have an opportunity to, A, educate the general public as to who you are and you can use it as a sales technique, and I think a lot of people don’t think about a negative review as a sales technique, but this is where you can put your best foot forward and say, you know what, we are really sorry you felt that way, we really want to address this and perform better. If you could contact us, we would love to discuss this with you, so we can learn how we can provide a better service.
Now, any potential customer that sees this is going to go, oh wow, they actually care and want to do better, that’s going to have a much better effect than yeah, I called and the receptionist was super snotty and didn’t seem like she wanted to give me the time of the day. Well, now they are able to see that you do care, you do want to give them the time of the day and you find their complaint — you personalized it.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Exactly.
Kelly Street: Yes. Okay. So there’s something that I am a little hesitant to bring up because I don’t want to set off an alarmist — a big fear for people that this is something that happens regularly, but it came up at a conference I was at last summer. A lawyer asked me what he is supposed to do about a fake negative review that his firm had. He said look, there’s this review on our Google My Business listing and I know we have never worked with them, I have no idea who they are, it’s kind of a nonsensical review and it’s clearly fake. I have reported it. I don’t know what to do.
And so I say all of this and I ask Jason’s advice for this with the disclaimer that this is incredibly rare and is not something that happens, because as soon as that lawyer asked that another lawyer jumped up and he was like how can we sue Google to stop these things from happening.
Jason Brown: Right, okay. So here is the rub. So Google allows users to use an alias, so when people are setting up their Gmail account, they can actually use an alias, which makes it really super tough to be able to determine if it really was a legitimate customer or not. They can call themselves Kelly Clarkson or any other name. And it’s usually like less than 5% of fake reviews are actually the negative review attacks.
Now, there are some lawyers that I have been seeing this issue happening a lot with in New Hampshire for some reason; somebody is just hell-bent on destroying all these lawyers in New Hampshire, but it doesn’t happen all that frequently with lawyers. Usually when people are spending money for fake reviews, they are trying to do the positive ones.
Now, if you do get a negative review, the best practice for Google My Business is to flag that review in your dashboard and wait up to three days. If you don’t get the response you want, then I recommend that you use Social Support. You can tweet to @GoogleMyBiz or you can go to Facebook and go to Google My Business, you can ask them a question and say hey, I have got this negative review, would you mind taking a look at it. On Twitter, you need to phone them back, but all the communication will be done in private messages.
Or you can go to the Google My Business Community Forum as well and go to the spam topic and start a new thread and post your business name, address, telephone number, website, and then the user name and link to it and say hey, this person, we don’t know, please can you take a look at this and see if this can be reviewed and removed.
I would say three out of ten times they can usually be removed, but a lot of the cases, we are going to sit there as experts and say yeah, you are not going to be able to get this removed. You want to take a step further, then you would need to go and subpoena Google for the records to get the identity of the user that posted that review to actually see if it’s a legitimate person or if it’s a competitor just trying to thrash you.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Yeah. And I think the other thing that I would add is in the legal context, again, remember Rules of Professional Conduct, remember that your obligations on client confidentiality and that kind of stuff still apply when you are replying to reviews. And so I think Jason gave some great advice earlier, which is, if you are getting, whether it’s a real or fake review, take a breath, don’t respond emotionally and then something like hey, we — if it’s Kelly Clarkston or Clarkson or whatever it is, sorry, I am not a fan, but in any event, if it’s an anonymous review or it’s a review you can’t identify, say hey, I am not sure that you are — I can’t identify you in our client list, but I am really sorry you have had this experience. Please contact us so that we can discuss your issue, that kind of stuff.
But be careful about putting reviews or reviewers, real or fake, on Blast. If it turns out that it’s actually a client of yours and you reveal a confidence or you violate a Rule of Professional Conduct or whatever, you are going to create more problems for yourself.
And think about — the other advice we always give is don’t think about this specific review, think about the next potential client or the next potential clients that are going to come and look you up or people that refer you clients and what the impact is of your response on them when they go to see that, because again, when I look at these things and I see these lawyers that are either violating client confidences or putting people on Blast, it just makes me have a bad feeling about them, not necessarily that they had this fake review or negative review or whatever it is.
Jason Brown: Right, that’s correct. And also, you have got to think about the Streisand Effect and when you are trying to put somebody on Blast or deter them from keeping that review live by either doxing them, by providing their private and personal information online, it’s going to have a ripple effect, where they are going to get so upset that they are going to share that with a load of people and the next thing you know you are going to become like some of these businesses that make the news and go viral for all the wrong reasons.
And I have seen it happen where somebody upsets the wrong person and it turned out to be somebody that actually works for a marketing company or work in PR and they use their press contacts, they get the story on the news and it just became a whole worst case scenario.
So yeah, like Gyi said, take a deep breath, take the emotion out of it and just be as apologetic as possible, even if they are completely wrong and you would rather them never be a customer again, you have got to think about how that’s going to look for any bystander that’s going to come across that response. And they are going to — because they are going to judge you by it and you want to, just like you would do in court, where you want to put on the best defense, you definitely want to put on the best defense when it comes to online reviews.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Right. And by the way, back to Kelly’s example, good luck suing Google for this. So far, my — I know that there is a push to have the platforms take on more accountability for the content in general, but also particularly as it relates to reviews, and we are a long way away I think from courts holding the platforms accountable. Again, they want people to have the ability to — consumers to express their good and bad about businesses they interact with, and so far I don’t think that’s — what do they say, that dog won’t hunt, is that a saying still, I have heard that before?
Kelly Street: Yeah.
Jason Brown: Yeah.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Okay.
Kelly Street: Well, I mean for anybody out there who is just like fuming about this right now and they are like oh, we should have more accountability —
Gyi Tsakalakis: Email Kelly.
Kelly Street: Yeah, email me. Well, I am not a lawyer so I can’t do anything about it. I mean there is this thing where we all want to be able to put a review on any business that we interact with and have that review stand. And so there comes some bad with that, and it’s not a ton of bad, there is more good than bad out there, but it does have a downside, just like everything else, so you do what you can to combat it. You have people like Jason out in the world who are fake review crime fighters and you do what you can.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Kelly is actually way more optimistic about this whole problem than I am. I think it’s a total cesspool disaster, and I would love to see more accountability from the publishers and from the platforms on this stuff, because on the one hand, number one, the consumer harm issue is my biggest concern.
So like I just talked to Josh King, when he was still with Avvo, you have got people making decisions about the lawyers they are hiring based on these reviews, whether that’s a sound consumer decision or not is a different subject for a different day, but someone graduates law school, they go out, they get 100 positive fake reviews on their profile and someone hires them and these people have no idea how to actually — they are not competent to represent the people that are hiring them. And so that’s for sure a false and misleading communication, which is, again, lawyers should be losing their licenses for that kind of stuff in my opinion.
But two, because we know that this is going on and the state bars aren’t equipped to do it and the FTC really — they have the resources they have, in my view it’s a huge problem, it’s eroding consumer confidence, it’s creating the opportunity for consumer harm.
Anyway, that’s my little rant about it.
Kelly Street: I mean don’t get me wrong. I think there needs to — absolutely needs to be more accountability, especially from Google’s part, and that is another one of the things I wanted to ask Jason about, because I saw that you had an interview where you talked about that you think, Jason, you think that Google will get better about their accountability in the coming year. Pin our hopes on you.
Jason Brown: Well, okay, so here is the thing. So I am covered by an NDA with Google, so I can’t go into specifics of what Google is eying. I am skeptical if they can actually do it. Honestly, I am more along the lines of Gyi and I think it’s going to take an act of Congress. I think Congress is going to have to start policing these platforms, because I don’t really fully feel that they can police themselves. It’s kind of become abundantly clear as I have been dealing with this for two years and watching how they willy-nilly enforce which business listings are going to go ahead and remove.
Now, it’s not just fake reviews, it’s also lawyers that are creating fake listings. They are doing the keyword stuffing. So they are trying to do anything they can to dominate their market, and then the fake reviews is kind of like another added byproduct of it.
I am going to be curious to see how the Pittsburgh case is actually going to play out, where a client is actually suing the law firm, because they selected them based on all their reviews, and I took a look at the law firm and it’s abundantly obvious that these were not legitimate reviews, that they were using some form of service, whether it was their marketing company or not. So I am kind of curious to see how this is going to play out and if this is going to kind of help bring about the needed changes for consumers, because bottom line, at the end of the day it’s the consumers that are losing out when it comes to the fake online reviews.
Gyi Tsakalakis: I am glad you brought that case up because that is — in this legal Internet space for going on 10 years now, the battle cry from the publishers and platforms and lead gen companies is always show me the case of consumer harm, and they never — and they haven’t been able to really do it, and whether that’s been — I think there is a variety of reasons for that, but this one is. This is a lawsuit where the plaintiff is saying I was harmed. I relied on these reviews and I think that that’s going to change the nature of some of these conversations, especially in the state bar regulator meetings.
It’s like now we have got the case. Now we can see it’s consumer harm, and like you said, it’s going to be state AGs, it’s going to be consumer protection statutes and ultimately I think federally obviously it’s going to take something more like Congress, unfortunately, because it’s — I mean it’s a real problem.
Jason Brown: Yeah. And there is a dentist right now in Chicago that is suing a patient for having a negative review. They totally trashed their online reputation, and I look at their reviews and they are all fake. I mean whether you are looking at Google or you are looking at their Facebook or you are looking at their Yelp reviews, they are all fake. And so this consumer was actually harmed because they actually took their kid to this dentist for dental work and the dentist should not have been doing dental work according to all the negative reviews that look 100% legitimate. So we are starting to see more and more cases of consumer harm.
There was a case just over the weekend in the UK where a plumber left a bunch of people without services and walked off the job after receiving money and now they had a bunch of fake listings under fake names and flooded the market with fake reviews.
So we are now seeing more and more cases sadly of consumer fraud. So I think it’s just going to exacerbate the need for the government to finally wake up and sit there and say okay, we need to start policing these platforms because it’s obvious that they can’t police themselves.
Kelly Street: There you go everyone. There is a new legal practice niche out there, policing the fake reviews and helping with consumer protection as far as reviews go. That actually seems like a very forward-looking practice area.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Yeah, we just created a new practice area here on Lunch Hour Legal Marketing.
Kelly Street: Boom.
Gyi Tsakalakis: And I am sure lawyers are already — I am sure this is already going on. I mean I guarantee there are lawyers that are already looking at this.
Jason Brown: Yeah, there are. There are lawyers that are looking at this. They have hired PIs to do their due diligence and subpoena Google and get the IPs and put together the presentations.
I spent my weekend documenting an issue where somebody’s Google My Business listing got completely compromised and they went from being a medical doctor to a garage door company, and based upon the email address that was connected to the account, I was able to find a whole slew of fake listings and review fraught networks, and it just took me two hours to document this whole thing.
So there is definitely a market for it for consumer protection and you know what, it’s a great easy lawsuit to do if you can show that a consumer was actually harmed selecting a business and all the reviews were fake and they were taken advantage of and you know what, when that case reaches the national media, your name is now synonymous with these cases.
Kelly Street: Man, if Reply All, the podcast, has not done a fake review episode, they could do some really cool things with all the things you are just talking about, that is amazing.
And I also have to give a shout out Jason to your on reviewfraud.org. That fake review spreadsheet and company list you have is amazing. I mean the thousands of companies that you have compiled who are violating and have fake reviews is just super cool. I spent like ten minutes going through it and trying to find, because I live in Minnesota, find all the Minnesota companies on there and I was like, oh, and there’s a law firm.
Jason Brown: Yeah, when I was putting together my list I actually found a business that was actually two blocks away from where I live and I was just like okay, that’s kind of — it’s really scary when you see how close to home it is.
Yeah, I mean here’s the thing, you don’t know if the business just down the street is actually on the list or engaging in fake reviews, and there’s a lot of lawyers on that list that shouldn’t be trusted by consumers.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Well, as we are wrapping this up, I just want to say thank you again to Jason so much for joining us today. I think this is a very important topic that a lot of our listeners will benefit from.
Jason, if people want to learn more about this or connect with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Jason Brown: Sure. They can follow me on Twitter, @keyserholiday, or they can easily shoot me an email, [email protected] and I would be happy to speak with them in better detail.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Awesome. Thanks again so much. Listeners, thank you for spending the time with us today. We hope you find this valuable, and as always, if you have questions or feedback, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
And if you are not already doing so, be sure to subscribe to Lunch Hour Legal Marketing on all of the podcast places like iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify now as well.
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The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own, and do not represent the views of nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders, or subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Let’s get to the interview or —
Kelly Street: That was so weird and awkward.
Gyi Tsakalakis: I know. It’s our preferred way. All right, let’s do it for real. Let’s get to the interview.
Kelly Street: You shouldn’t. Why can’t you say that with the normal — why can’t you just say and now let’s get to the interview.
Gyi Tsakalakis: And now let’s get to the interview.
Kelly Street: You always sound like you are not sure if it’s actually going to happen after that.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Let’s get to the interview.
Kelly Street: Yes, yeah.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Should we do the interview?
Kelly Street: We already did the interview.
Gyi Tsakalakis: Let’s get to the interview, Jason Brown.
Kelly Street: Oh, that was so — oh, that was good. That was great. That will be the — that’s the one.