The importance of recognizing fake reviews

It’s been almost 15 years since I’ve started seriously playing with the idea of a proper online dating software, and close to a decade since SkaDate became a recognized name in the industry. Through all this time I’ve been gathering the best people I could get in order to continuously improve our product, and give aspiring dating site moguls the best tools possible.

Sure, the road to our current success was bumpy. Being the market leader is tough, since it is you who plow through the unknown, overcoming unexpected obstacles and dealing with never-before-seen circumstances. That, however, is to be expected from pioneers, and SkaDate was just that in the mid-2000s.

We encountered problems and promptly dealt with them – that is how everything goes in our industry, so it’s not the most interesting of topics to return to. What is, though, is one of the most peculiar aspects of running a small independent business – dealing with dirty tricks and smear campaigns.

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You see, small startups and private companies running autonomously of big boardroom pressures and expensive legal protection are often not prepared to tackle unfair, unjust, and untrue jibes from potential pseudo-competition. All your energy and efforts at that point in time are directed at maximizing customer attraction, satisfaction and retention, not to mention staying afloat. And then suddenly your vision and enthusiasm is compromised by some ridiculous and unsubstantiated accusations, which often don’t even have to do anything with the product you are selling.

So, what did happened to us, and does happen to many other small companies especially at initial stages of their existence? We’ve been hit hard with an avalanche of fake negative reviews, name-calling forum posts, identity-theft attempts, vaguely insulting videos, privacy-disclosing leaks, and even accusations of sponsoring terrorism. All at once! It’s all laughs now, but at the time, some of my team members ended up living dangerously close to a prolonged nervous breakdown.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, the most valuable advice I can give here is not to panic. Thank god we didn’t! Looking back at our plight and analysing why it happened, I can say that in the end it was a good experience, and actually reinforced our belief that we are doing something right.

Back in the day, online dating bore the stigma of being ambiguously dodgy. And for a good reason too, since the field was full of small-scale crooks running bride-order scams or inoperable POF knockoffs. It all worked in a sort of shady harmony, so when we launched with the ambition to give people the real deal and a proper business solution, the hostility was warranted.

The attacks intensified for a while as we continued to grow, until finally this shit mountain imploded under the weight of its own sheer ridiculousness. The stains and scars of this assault are still visible in some corners of the Internet, and the most persistent of bullies still show up annually on remote forums, usually come springtime.

What was one of the most important things that we took away from all of this? Recognizing fake charges and not letting them get in the way of our actual progress. This could be deadly. Instead of improving the service, you could be tangled into a tiresome verbal no-win war, which can easily bury you like quicksand. The understanding that even the most unsatisfied customer can be talked to with reason, unlike a troll with an agenda, is key. Since no one likes trolls, people tend to take notice and not trust them. And we did our best to help others see the demarcation line better.

We stepped up the efforts of improving customer satisfaction. We held online conferences with customers. We took part in industry-wide events, all the while meticulously replying to all real forum posts and reviews. We gave micro-detailed reasonings, explanations, counteroffers, etc., to the point where the fake bits stuck out like sore thumbs. Lo and behold, everyone around started recognizing these things and learned to ignore them.

The simple truth is – no amount of smear will ever bury you if you do provide a good product, keep yourself open to the public, and prove with your actions that your clients are your best assets.

To close this off, here’s a few pointers to help you easily recognize fakes:

  • Unwarranted rudeness;
  • Often poor English command, including bad grammar and spelling;
  • Numerous comments made by seemingly different people within a contained timeframe;
  • Fresh registration, usually with no other profile activity, or even a complete profile;
  • Repeatedness of the information;
  • Lack of detail, with vague info or unrelated focus;
  • A reverse of the previous point – abnormal abundance of text;
  • Absence of follow ups to reponses;
  • Restriction to post official replies;
  • Sudden spike of ultra-positive feedback towards other, often obscure services;

Good luck everyone, and keep it strong!

Emil Sarnogoev
CEO, Skalfa LLC