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Recently, Edmunds.com filed a major lawsuit about the online reputation management firm Humankind Design after the firm posted fraudulent comments on the site. The outcome of this case could have serious repercussions for the online reputation management industry.

Edmunds.com, an online home for automotive research, filed the suit after the website found that Humankind had attempted to register nearly 2,200 fake profiles on the site. Edmunds.com discovered 25 dealers who were hired by Humankind to submit these reviews. The company has not provided the names or locations of the dealers.

Any user who places a review on Edmunds.com must visit the site and accept a membership agreement. This agreement prohibits the use of profanity or posting content that isn’t centered around the user’s personal experience. Further, the agreement requires that all members agree to only register one user name, and to agree not to register using another person’s name or select a user name intended to mislead or deceive visitors to the site.

According to their guidelines, Edmunds.com will monitor all reviews before publication on the website. All reviews must meet the requirements included in the signed membership agreement.

fake-reviews

Earlier this spring, employees of Edmunds.com began monitoring reviews and identified a significant number of registrations linked to published reviews. Eventually, those reviews were traced back to Humankind.

At this time, Edmunds.com believes that all fraudulent material has been removed from the website. Humankind representatives have offered to address these allegations before a court date, but the case has yet to be revoked by Edmunds.com. Edmunds.com won a similar case in 2006 against a site user who was harassing others on the website’s forums.

Humankind publishes a page on its website that explains how to gather reviews legally. According to Edmunds.com, Humankind’s website has identified several review sites where it can post fake reviews, such as Foursquare, Google+ and Yelp. These websites such as TripAdvisor or Yelp have experienced issues with fake and fraudulent reviews.

For businesses seeking the upper hand on the competition, collecting positive online reviews might seem like the right place to start. However, there are many more convenient tools that are both legal and ethical. In many cases, posting content on review sites can be detrimental. Review sites are highly ranking online resources that often contain negative mentions of you and your business. Adding further content to these pages increases their strength and makes them more visible on Google search results. Below, you’ll find a few suggestions about online marketing that don’t involve posting fake reviews.

Focus inward

In order to protect your business, instead concentrate on Web entities like your website, social-media profiles and other blogs that promote positive and high-quality content about your services and products. An online reputation management company can help improve Google search results by pushing down negative ratings and reviews that might appear on page one. Additionally, these expert professionals will monitor search results to determine the best course of action for your business.

Reply with caution

If a fan asks a question or voices a concern, respond quickly. Your attention to their needs will result in a positive and ongoing relationship. Allow your Facebook users to express their opinions – even if it means experiencing some backlash to your business. Responding to negative feedback could result in a more inflamed audience. Even though your fans might argue back and forth from time to time, it’s important to steer clear of these adversarial conversations unless they violate your site’s guidelines for profanity or confidentiality. Social media involves developing relationships and addressing customer issues – but be careful where you tread.

Be visual

The use of images is generally a good idea. Images can showcase your services and products in an attractive manner, inviting the reader to engage in your content. Facebook posts that feature images and videos are regularly more popular than those that are text-only. Ideally, you’ll communicate your message in a simple and easy-to-understand manner. Facebook users would rather view photos and videos than longer posts with text. Remember: Don’t overuse your Facebook page by posting several posts each day. One or two posts will be sufficient.

Don’t be spammy

If you’re solely posting about your services and products, demanding your Facebook users to sign up for newsletters and email blasts, and offering bribes to “Like” and share your content, then you will alienate your users. In addition to these sales pitches, you should be providing informational and entertaining posts that are valuable for your audience.

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Posted by Blake Boldt

Blake Jonathan Boldt is a content strategist for Reputation Advocate. He provides writing, editing, social media and content strategy services for both domestic and international clients. His articles have been featured in numerous magazines, newspapers and digital media outlets.

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