Sustainability (and such)

GOTTA HAVE FAITH: and other review sites

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on June 20, 2012

A colleague recently asked if I’d ever posted anything to, one of those consumer review sites that’s a Word of Mouth force for potential employees.  It was new to me…check out the description:

“Glassdoor is your free inside look at jobs and companies.  Salary details, company reviews, and interview questions – all posted anonymously by employees and job seekers.”

Wow, who wouldn’t want to check out an insider’s view of how things REALLY are?   What great potential, this powerful, transparent tool! A quick spin through reviews about this particular employer turned up strong themes BUT such sites can, unfortunately, feature more fake reviews than genuine.  What, you say?  You mean every word you say? 

So who to believe? Over the last year, some firms have artificially boosted their scores by using bots or reputation management groups to post fake-positive reviews.  Some employers are literally demanding that workers write glowing posts to negate the biased, negative ones.  How genuine, indeed. (And doesn’t management have bigger things to worry about than what’s posted online?)

In the past, I’ve been mostly amused by such sites, mainly because I’ve seen how academics and students brush off – or buy into – weirdly stilted posts in  Especially horrific reviews are dated just before final exams, a prime time for students to insult everything from the physical appearance to the teaching styles of their instructors.  Nope, I wasn’t immune—One student who visited me after graduating confessed to writing a mediocre review of my class just before a final paper was due that he hadn’t started.  “It was just easier to vent on Ratemyprofessor than start my project,” he said, while also asking me to write a recommendation.  And I know all the games they play, because I play them, too.

“When did students start thinking it’s okay to always hide behind snarky reviews, especially when there are lots of opportunities for anonymous feedback during a semester?” one friend pondered.  And maybe that’s the point. Why hide online? After all, can’t people see through the artificially gleaming reviews as well as the beyond-belief horrible ones? This falls under a fact of credibility and appropriate response: if the content isn’t trustworthy, consumers will turn elsewhere. And how did this online trend pick up so much steam, to now slowly face deflation?  Side note:  If you’re offering any product or service, include possible responses to online reviews within your crisis comm plan.  While less valid than Wikipedia (cough, cough), online reviews can help spot trends that need addressing.

I suppose I see anonymous and sometimes fake reviews as symptomatic of a larger problem: whether in our work environments or in classroom settings, if we can’t talk face-to-face, if we’ve lost the desire and ability to negotiate – to talk out – what’s working and what’s not working between us, how do we find relief for the real dilemmas that face us? How can we communicate toward solutions to our problems if we don’t communicateBut I’ll wait for something more…

As George Michael might say:  Life isn’t a Journey lyric.  You don’t always get it any way you want it.  Because I got to have faith-a-faith-a-faith.

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