Disclaimer: this article was written and saved as a draft. Following the Coleen Rooney “investigative journalism” scandal, I’ve decided to republish, but all references to names and some details have been removed.
I’d like to tell you a story.
A cautionary tale, if you like, about the perils of Google reviews.
It all started when I was asked to choose a supplier for an event.
After exchanging some emails, I chose the supplier, the nature of whose services I have chosen to omit. As such, I cannot go into too much detail about their services. Long story short, they arrived late and it did not meet the standards of the event.
A “full investigation”
I was advised to take it up with head office. I wrote a strongly-worded email demanding a refund and was told I would receive a response after a “full investigation”.
After two days, they’d written out a play-by-play account of what happened, mentioning how many times they’d apologised. They’d concluded we were not owed a refund.
Fuming at the poor service, I decided to attack with a 1* Google review.
It seems I met my match for my pettiness.
I advised my sister to leave the review, fearing that they would leave a fake review on my business page in retaliation. (Foolishly, I’d corresponded with them via my business email.) Now, perhaps I was a little rash in my email. But I could not have anticipated what would happen next.
After a few weeks of receiving some new, very questionable, spam emails, I checked my Gmail account. Again, my fault: I have so many Gmail accounts, I don’t check them regularly. What I found was that Katie Lingo had received three 1* reviews, some five weeks after the event.
These reviews deemed me “unprofesional” [sic] and two of them even called me racist.
What on earth? I’d never even heard of these people, let alone worked with them. Unprofessional is one thing, but racist? Clearly they wanted to publish the most damaging review they could.
So I decided to investigate further. I opened the first review to find the person had written Google reviews for just two companies. One 1* for Katie Lingo, and another – shocker – 5* review for the supplier.
Shrug. Maybe just a coincidence?
I looked at the next reviewer. Three reviews this time. One 1* for Katie Lingo, and another 5* review for the supplier! The third? A 1* review for a nearby competitor. Ouch.
Even more intriguing, they’d all left their reviews on the same day.
If that wasn’t enough, one of the reviews (from a company) had the same address on Companies House as the supplier. Cover your tracks.
With my background in digital marketing agencies, I decided to practise what I used to preach. I responded to all of the reviews, and called them out on their similarities, noting that I had never worked with any of them. I also called Google, who told me that the reviews were clearly fake and would be removed within three days.
(It took a little longer than three days, but we got there in the end.)
After this whole episode, what I found most baffling was the timing of their attack. They’d more than redeemed themselves by asking customers to leave positive reviews, thus increasing their Google review average.
Then I found another review.
Another person, with whom I am not familiar, left the supplier a review calling them racist. Whether or not these claims were true, I had no idea, but the fake reviews appeared on my profile the same day. Coincidence? Inspiration? You decide. It was quite clear that these people thought I had left them another, fake, review. This was weeks later and I was not interested.
At the time I was fuming and tried to seek legal advice, but the rules around defamation are tricky. (There’s an interesting excerpt from McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists here.) Not only do you have to prove they were published (easy), you have to prove they caused you harm. I’ll never really know, I suppose.
Now that a few months have passed, and more importantly, the reviews are gone, I can look back on this incident fondly. I really didn’t mean to enter into a battle with another business. I was simply a dissatisfied customer. I did learn a few lessons though:
- Don’t email suppliers from your work email address.
- Check your emails!
- Accept that some people will leave bad reviews, false or otherwise. Acknowledge them.
- Give Google a call if you’re genuinely worried about fake reviews/damage to your reputation.
- Be fair in your reviews. Write them, wait, and review the next day. If you can be certain they’re not emotionally charged, hit publish.
- Provide evidence to support your claims.
- Don’t leave fake reviews. Someone will notice.
A final word for Coleen Rooney
That’s some first-class investigation you’ve got going there. Well done you. Thank you for giving others the confidence to call people out on their wrongdoings.
I’ve removed most of the images from this post, all of which support my claim, but also expose the company in question. I have no further interest in dealing with them. Let bygones be bygones.
Hey, if you have worked with me, fancy leaving a review?