As most of you know, I like to post full reviews with videos on this site, and then post some of the key excepts of the reviews to Amazon.
Recently, I posted a three-star review of Jillian Michaels Fitness Adventure under my “nutwiisystem.com” moniker. I thought the review was fair, honest and balanced.
I noticed a few things right away. First, a LOT more people were voting the review as “unhelpful” than for my usual reviews. Second, suddenly a rash for 5-star reviews started popping up, to the point where the star rating went from a 3 to a 4.5.
I suppose it’s possible that a bunch of people played and loved this game. But when I dug into the details, I saw something a little more nefarious.
In my “day job”, I work as an Internet professional, doing SEO and Reputation Management for different companies. There are honest ways to do it and dishonest ways. It looks like Jillian’s people have chosen the dishonest ways. If I were Jillian, I’d fire whoever’s doing her PR in a heartbeat, as they’re just giving her a worse name.
Years ago in the early days of Amazon I was burned by fake reviews. There was an e-Book that had dozens of rave reviews. I purchased it based on that, and I got stuck with a piece of junk. And so since then, I’ve learned how to spot fake reviews. I’ll share my tips with you here, using the awful job Jillian Michael’s PR folks did as an example.
- Look at the Amazon badges under the profile name. Does it say something like “Top 500 reviewer”, “Top 100 reviewer” or “Amazon Vine Program”? If so, chances are this is a legitimate reviewer.
- Look for other signals under the name like “Amazon Verified Purchase” and “Real Name”. These are less trustworthy than the first set of badges, as they can be manipulated. But still, the probability of this being a legitimate review is okay.
- Look at the timing of the reviews. Check to see if there has been a rash of overwhelmingly positive reviews happening in a very short span of time. The typical trend for video games is that the most popular games will see a large number of reviews upon launch and a relatively steady but decreasing amount of reviews from week to week. For less popular games, you’ll see maybe one new review every few weeks. The Jillian Michaels game fell under the latter category, and yet within a day or two you could see a huge number of positive reviews.
- Check to see if any negative reviews are being “voted down” as unhelpful, even if they seem pretty comprehensive and helpful. Usually this is because of a coordinated effort to bury any bad publicity. Most of my reviews get overwhelmingly positive reviews (thanks to perspicacious readers like you :)), but I noticed that on my review here I got five bad review (and counting) in an obvious attempt to drive down the legitimate positive ratings (happily, it looks like the Amazon community is seeing the fake reviews for what they are, and voting them down too).
- Look for overly defensive statements in the review, particularly trying to counteract a negative comment made in a previous not-so-positive review. Note that the “positive” reviews happen to extol how the game is “not like the Wii version” and “the Kinect works great”.
- Look at the other reviews by the reviewer by clicking “See All My Reviews”.Is this their first and only review? Do they review mostly products from the same publisher, manufacturer, or personality? For example, check out the profile of the reviewer “regina s.” and note how conveniently there are all five-star reviews for other Jillian Michaels-related products, including the almost universally-panned 2011 Wii game:
- Look at the content of the review for the following things.
- Does it contain “marketing speak” that most real people wouldn’t use?For example, the title of one of the Jillian Michaels reviews is “Makes a Great Holiday Gift!”. What “real person” would summarize their review in this way?
- Does it contain intentional misspellings and poor punctuation to try to make it look like a “real person”rather than a PR company? For example: The graphics are the best yet and the different rooms are fun and excititng, you’ll get a great workout!! Will make a great Christmas present for freinds and family.
- Does it contain a balance of good points and bad points, or is it overwhelmingly good? More clever people who write “fake review” will write things that seem like negatives, but quickly discount their own feedback. They may also seemingly endorse rival products, but will always go back and the product they’re reviewing the more positive light. For example:I had a hard time hitting some of the gems that are far to the side. Still trying to figure that part out, but overall it’s a blast.Zumba is also good if you are into this kinda thing, but Jillian’s has been the best so far.
- Does it provide details, or does it just use vague platitudes?The Kinect works great with this game too, one of our best games. We got a great workout!!!
- Does it provide TOO MANY details or not sound natural? Sometimes the opposite is true–a shill working for a PR company will stuff in things they copied and pasted from a product information sheet.
- Does it contain overwhelmingly positive feedback, but only four stars? This may be another case where clever reviewers are attempting to look “balanced” and “natural”. Sadly, in the case of the Jillian Michaels fake reviews, they weren’t clever enough to do even that–every review is five stars.
- Look for other reviews outside of Amazon
- Cross-reference popular gaming sites. Personally, I like to look at GameFly’s reviews, because they’re going to be harder for a PR company to manipulate (the reviews are from people who’ve rented the game and returned it). Jillian gets a 3.3 on GameFly from 12 people who have rented it so far. Metacritic, IGN, and GameStop are also good sites, although they may be slow to review fitness games.
- Googling for review sites is troublesome, because all that shows up for searches like “Review of Jillian Michaels Fitness Adventure Review” are placeholder pages of big gaming brands (again, many of whom will take months before they will review fitness game, if at all) and PR sites who have gotten good at “fooling” Google that they have good review content when they have nothing. Still, if you’re patient you’ll come across a blog or two with an in-depth and unbiased review. If you find sites like these, bookmark them, “Like” them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, and visit them often. As much content as there is on the Web, it’s getting harder and harder to find diamonds among the rough.
- When looking at reviews at blogs you don’t recognize, go back and read reviews of other products this blogger has reviewed. Use the same criteria I mentioned above for Amazon reviews to evaluate this blogger. Do all the reviews seem overly positive and over-the-top? Does the reviewer leave sufficient detail, both positive and negative? Look at how this reviewer reviewed other games that you might have played before–do you agree with his or her assessment? These are all ways to tell whether this is a legitimate blogger versus a shill for the publisher.
- Trust your instincts. Read the following reviews, and try to figure out whether it’s from a shill or a “real” person.
This game has it all. Great graphics, hands free playing, lots of rooms and adventures. It’s never boring and with so many levels doesn’t get repetitive. The Kinect works great with this game too, one of our best games. We got a great workout!!!This new game is great. It’s much better than the wii games. The Kinect technology is cool and fun to play, it detects your body movements easily and makes for a very smooth experience between game and player. The graphics are the best yet and the different rooms are fun and excititng, you’ll get a great workout!! Will make a great Christmas present for freinds and family.If you are looking for a game that has it all this is it. There are pre set routines. You can program your own workout. Jillian trains you the entire time. You can just do workouts or you can do adventure mode. This is a highly impressive effort. Most of the games for xbox are overly simplified, but Jillian’s fitness adventure keeps it fun, but you still get a great workout. I really enjoy it.
Wow. I have to say they put the time in on this one. I genuinely felt like I was a character in Indiana Jones. JIllian has you exploring and traversing hidden jungle temples while she trains you. It’s really exciting and it kicks your butt at the same time. It took me time to figure out where to stand for my camera, but once I did I had no problems. Really like this game. Zumba is also good if you are into this kinda thing, but Jillian’s has been the best so far.
Once again Jillian is front and center pushing you and motivating you. She trains you throughout the game. There are fitness segments and adventure segments. She talks to you and gives you feedback while you exercise. The technology is much better than the wii. I got a great workout. I had a hard time hitting some of the gems that are far to the side. Still trying to figure that part out, but overall it’s a blast.
This game is very user friendly and very interactive. I love that I have the kinect making sure I’m doing every exercise correctly so I don’t end up hurting myself. The game is very customizable and you don’t need any equipment to get a great workout. I totally recommend this game!
I really hate working out. I like Jillian though. So I thought I would give this title a try. It’s a good workout, but you don’t feel like you are working out. It’s nice because you get caught up in the game and forget that you are exercising. I notice that you have to be very conscious of where you set up your camera so the console reads your body correctly. If you don’t pay attention to this you will struggle with it. Once you set up the game properly you should have no problems. There are many different options within the game so there is something for everyone. My 65 year old mom was playing with my 10 year old and they were both having a great time. I like this cause it’s a great way to get exercise in for the whole family and keep it fun.
I love this game. It’s so much better than previous title on wii. I really like that the cameras detect your full body movements. It’s a very neat looking game. Plus you can get a training session in or choose to do an adventure. I wore my body bugg and in 30 minutes i burned 400 calories.
If you guessed that 8 out of 8 were fake congratulations, you have what it takes to spot a fake review! Judging from the number of negative votes these reviews got, it looks like the Amazon community got it too.
Bottom line, PR companies are getting pretty slick as far as trying to manipulate social media and review sites. Some will form internal teams to create hundreds of fake user accounts who will comment on new products. Others will outsource to a cheap company overseas to do that. Still others will “bribe” users with incentives like free copies of the game to write reviews (this problem had gotten so rampant that the Federal Trade Commission actually instituted a law saying that it was illegal not to disclose whether someone has a relationship with the vendor whose product they are reviewing; since the law is almost impossible to enforce, most fake reviewers don’t bother). And so it’s up to you, the consumer, to get more savvy about spotting the wheat among the chaff.
The truly sad thing about all this is that for the same money PR companies are spending trying to manipulate reviews, they could be investing those same resources into doing things legitimately. For example, instead of trying so hard to push my Jillian Michaels Fitness Adventure down with a bunch of anonymous “Not Helpful” votes, if a representative of the company simply left a comment on the Amazon review respectfully acknowledging my points and giving me advice on how to fix them, that would have gone a LONG way towards winning over me and prospective customers. People who write negative reviews don’t do so out of spite nor to be personal. It’s just that we’ve spent a LOT of money on something and when it doesn’t provide us the value we hoped it would, we feel it fair to alert others so they can go in with different expectations.
To be honest, I tried and tried and tried to get get this game to work, especially on floor exercises. If this game publisher saw it fit to release the game, I assume there has to be SOME scenario in which it’ll work. If they just bit the bullet and shared with us some tips and advice, they’d have built a lot of trust and good-will, which would accomplish more than giving a “thumbs down” to my review (in fact, I’d probably bump up the star rating if someone could tell me how to get it to work consistently).
Instead, by so obviously trying to manipulate the review, what this company is effectively saying is “we acknowledge that the flaws are real and beyond repair, so we will cut our losses and try to fool as many people as possible into buying this game by posting fake reviews”. But that’s ultimately a losing strategy. Even if that ends up increasing their sales for Christmas, they’re going to have a lot of unhappy people on Christmas morning who don’t realize that they can’t play this game with 6 feet of space or that their playing conditions aren’t right for this game. And as they found with the Wii version, those customers are going to say “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” Instead of “damage control”, I wish game publishers would just spend a little more time testing their games under real-world conditions and delivering high quality games that users will WANT to rave about, instead of paying people to write disingenuous fake reviews.
I hate to single out Jillian Michael’s fake reviews, because I’ve seen this happen over and over again. Notice how on Ubisoft games, certain reviewers just pop up time and time again (check out the years of reviews from a reviewer who named himself after the comic strip Funky Winkerbean). And there was an interesting scenario with the game Jumpstart Get Moving Family Fitness Wii where my review was “voted down” and the top reviewer ended up being someone who called out Knowledge Adventure for fake reviews.
Bottom line, fake reviews and fake reviewers will always be with us. Amazon doesn’t seem to be doing very much to stop it, instead relying on its community to police itself. Sometimes this works, but other times thousands if not millions of people are buying something based on incomplete information. The only solution is to become more informed yourself, and to take everything you read on Amazon (and the Web as a whole) with a grain of salt.
Happy shopping! 🙂