Last year, I wrote about identifying fake reviews. In the overall discussion about purchasing site activity (whether it be comments, posts, reviews, or whatever else you offer), it’s safe to assume that buying blog comments is pretty much the same thing as buying user reviews. There’s a lot of overlap between the two and they pretty much achieve the same purposes. But there are also a few subtle differences.
Why do people buy site activity? What impact has this phenomenon had on the web? Should you start doing the same?
Wait, People Buy Comments?
A few years ago, when I first began my pursuit of a career in writing, I spent a lot of my days on Craigslist and freelancing sites like Odesk and E-Lance. I was pretty desperate back then and I accepted a lot of jobs that were nothing short of busywork and paid less than peanuts.
One of the job listings that I frequently found? Writing blog comments that linked back to a certain site, organization, or product. And yes, I’ve done a few of these gigs in my time.
As far as I know, there are two categories of buying comments.
In the traditional sense – if traditional can even be used in a context so recent – buying comments meant that you would be paid to upsell a particular target website. Your job was to surf the web, look for various blogs and forums that were in the same market, then write a one- or two-line comment with a link back to your target website. It’s basically a method of advertisement.
The more recent variation: buying user reviews. In this method, you’d most likely be sent to one or a couple of sites that have review pages for your target product (like Amazon and Ukritic) and your job would be to write multiple reviews using multiple accounts. This has been happening a lot recently with ebook reviews and Yelp reviews.
Buying Comments Can Be Good…
From a company’s perspective, buying blog and forum comments and reviews can be wonderful. It’s really no different from paid endorsements in TV commercials, right? When Pepsi pays Britney Spears to drink her soda while doing sexy things, nobody really lashes out. Actually, that’s about par for the course. The only difference with paid comments is that companies are paying regular people instead of celebrities to sell their brand.
When a company buys a batch of user comments, they’re buying a couple of things. The most important is, of course, exposure. Every comment that gets posted to Amazon, Facebook, Google+, Goodreads, Ebay, etc. is another link on the Internet that could bring traffic to the target website. If the advertiser were to buy enough comments, the impact could be palpable.
They say that bad publicity is better than no publicity, and the reasoning is pretty sound: at least with bad publicity, people know you exist. That’s what these comments are primarily meant to do.
When a company buys a review, they’re also buying an image. First impressions are so important, especially on the Internet when people have attention spans shorter than a goldfish. Think about this: are you more likely to buy a product that has 0 stars (no reviews) or one that has 3-4 stars? In my case, it’s the latter every time.
…But More Often Than Not, They’re Bad
The theory behind comment purchasing might seem great on the surface, but there are a number of drawbacks that you should know about. It’s not all sunshine and games.
From the comment/review writer’s perspective, it’s a job that lacks glamor, honor, fulfillment, and excitement. After you’ve written the same basic comment a hundred times, I’d be surprised if you didn’t want to tear out all of your hair. A lot of creativity goes into a big-budget paid advertisement and there’s a sense of accomplishment at the end. But paid comments? They’ll suck your soul dry.
There are even some downsides for the company seeking out paid comments. Fake comments and fake reviews are relatively easy to spot, and once spotted, they’ll tarnish your reputation. It’s little more than comment spam at that point. When word gets out that your company uses fake comments to build your brand, you’ll lose your customers’ trust in a heartbeat. If there’s no trust, there’s no value.
The impact goes farther still. Not only do users lose faith in you as a company, they begin to lose faith in user review systems. The idea of user reviews is inherently great, but when companies exploit it to the point where people no longer trust those reviews, then the system falls apart and we’re left with nothing.
As a company, it’s better in the long run to put in effort towards building a large pool of comments/posts/reviews organically – by approaching and attracting people who are genuinely interested – than it is to get a big boost in comments that won’t be taken seriously.