There is a well known parents website (whose title suggests a single gendered focus) who have become an increasingly powerful presence and influencer. Quite recently I have noticed with increasing frequency that their awards or recommendations for products are now appearing on the packaging of those products.
I have no issue with this happening as the site should rate things if it wishes and getting crowd-funded response helps other consumers, so all good. But there is an issue and I think it will worsen and is unbalanced in regards to objective rating.
The site has paid advertising and sponsored products. It also has competitions for submitting reviews on particular products. It has vouchers and offers that are exclusive to its readers. Now any one of these shows some slight favour, but nothing ‘bad’, right?
The reviews of the products are fair (broadly) and the way the ratings work is by mob decision, so that isn’t bad. Except I think you could game this system and get good response and I will highlight one way I can think of.
I have a product, it isn’t unique but it is new to my company. I want a high pickup and I want awards so the new product will fly off the shelves, I also want stores to stock it so need a high demand.
- Send free review copies to site owners in a fancy box with a few extra goodies as thanks for reviewing, but don’t insist on a good review. (This tactic will influence people, we all like being treated well).
- Offer a lot of discounts to visitors of these sites, make them special. (Increase demand).
- Run a competition that anyone can enter (spreading the word).
- Run promotion at the people who enter competitions or use discount codes to get further discounts on products and special extras and mention that a good review is loved, even tell people of the special packages that some reviewers get. (This will help to reposition any 3.5 out 5 star reviews into being a 4 – you want to be fair but 3.5 is almost 4 right?)
- Any site where the reviews are more positive and increasing push further offers and targeted advertising.
There is no guarantee that this will absolutely work, but if the product is good enough and you keep it subtle but pervasive you will see a change in behaviour and uptake.
So I think that you have to treat this in a balanced way. If you are a product advertiser who gets an award on a site like this then you shouldn’t advertise on the site. It is too much collusion and too much chance of bias.
Put it this way, if you had a bad review on the site and a worst product award you wouldn’t spend any money there and would consider it toxic. I think you have to do the same if you have great reviews.
It is a way of keeping a moral equilibrium. If you are the site owners you maybe want to think about the whole model you have created. A system that allows direct influence via numerical reward for products that (although may be fairly reviewed and loved) directly influence people’s spending has a responsibility to be fair.
You can’t be fair when someone is throwing money at you and your model is to take their discounts, advertising and free products. It is always going to affect your rating either positively or negatively.