Editor’s note: This article was originally published at INSTORE Online on Dec. 1, 2015. We are highlighting it again because it connected so strongly with readers, eventually becoming one of our most popular articles ever.
LONG’S JEWELERS has been a local, family owned and operated business in the Boston area for over 135 years. Our reputation in the community and commitment to service is one of the many reasons we remain in business, garnering a very loyal following. Generations of families have shopped with us – grandparents, parents, children, and those children’s children. It’s the relationships we’ve built over time that keeps us going, year after year.
I joined the Long’s team just a few years ago. Since then, I’ve been working with our marketing team to increase our online presence with tools like HubSpot, blogging, and social media. Within just a few months, we saw some incredible shifts in our business. We significantly increased our website traffic and lead volume. We quadrupled the views on our blog. And our social media profiles went from just a few followers, to tens of thousands! It’s been an incredible journey to get where we are today. With this increased exposure, we’ve received countless positive reviews and comments. I’ve always been extremely proud of our nearly 5-star rating on many different websites, including our Facebook page.
Things were looking so great for us that what came next was a complete shock.
When I came into the office last Monday (November 9th), I did my routine check of all our social media channels. What I found took me completely by surprise. Our gleaming rating on Facebook had somehow plummeted from 4.8 stars to 2.3 stars.
Wait…what! I had just checked our reviews on Friday to make sure there were none we needed to follow up on. I thought it was a mistake at first, an error in Facebook’s algorithm.
Then I saw it – Over 100 fake one-star reviews were left on our page with no comments. These reviews came within minutes of each other. Within a short span of time, we went from an almost five-star rating to just barely over two stars.
I was stunned. At the time I thought, okay clearly someone did this to be malicious and Facebook will understand. It couldn’t be more clear what happened here.
Then came our first lesson of the day…
Lesson #1: Facebook’s Rating System Is Seriously Flawed…and They Aren’t Willing To Help Unless You Put Up a Fight
I reached out to Facebook to eliminate these ratings and get things back on track using the “contact us” portal that allows you to report situations like this. At first, I received a generic canned response saying that my comments will help Facebook improve in the future.
I went on with my day, confident that things would get back to normal in a matter of hours. By 2pm I was checking my email, by 3pm I was starting to get nervous and was just plain shocked I still had not heard of them. Come 4pm, still no response. I continually messaged them through different outlets for the next few days. I looked up ways to try to call them, until I finally found a small loophole that allowed me to live chat with someone. Perfect! I figured once I got a hold of a real person, the issue would immediately be fixed.
The customer service representative was very apologetic, so I was instantly relieved. The issue would be escalated to the Pages team, she said. I stopped panicking, because it sounded like this would be taken care of. The next day, I came into work to find a follow-up email claiming that there was nothing Facebook could do about this issue “at this time.”
….”at this time?” What was it about “this time” that made things different than the future or “other times?” We received 100 fake one-star reviews, with no text comments (which also means we couldn’t contest them) all from clearly fake profiles. These “reviewers” went to fictitious schools, lived in fictitious towns in the US, posted spam on their accounts, and left fake reviews for dozens of other businesses. And yet, this was not enough proof for Facebook to help us.
Imagine seeing dozens of profiles that were near clones of each other.
They all left the same reviews of the same businesses on the same days. We won’t even get into how they were able to visit so many places around the world so quickly.
Our team was floored. In the retail industry, especially jewelry, the holiday season is the biggest and most important time of year. We prepare throughout the entire year for these next few months, and every single day matters. The timing could not be worse.
So…where were we supposed to go from here? The inbound.org community has been so helpful for Long’s in the past. It has always felt like a close, tight-knit circle of people who want to share information and help one another succeed. I figured it might be a good place to turn at this point to get some answers or suggestions.
I posted about our unfortunate situation. I didn’t expect our story to get as much attention as it did, but the exposure gave me some leverage to contact Facebook again asking that something be done about this blatant act of spam. The follow-up email was again very apologetic, and they agreed to re-evaluate the issue. Since then, some of the fake profiles have been taken down, but some still remain intact.
While this issue might be resolved in the future, things may never get back to the way they once were with our rating. And, if a competitor can do this and get away with it so easily, what will stop them from doing it again in the future? (Spoiler alert: They did do it again. And got away with it…again.)
Lesson #2: You Can Destroy the Reputation Of Any Business For A Mere $5 On Fiverr
Ironically, I had just read an article about Fiverr, an online community of people who are willing to complete tasks or gigs for only $5. There are many legitimate accounts on the site – guitarists willing to write songs for you, poets who can write you a love sonnet, voiceover projects, etc. But, people on this site also offer services like leaving fake reviews for companies that will boost or hurt their overall ratings. When I read about this a few months ago, I remember thinking, wow that’s terrible, who would ever do that and how would they even get away with it?
Well, for a mere $5 …Yes only $5 (aka a Starbucks latte)… Someone hired one of these people to leave us 100 fake one-star reviews on our Facebook page. The job was carried out in a matter of minutes, and then, that was it! The damage was done. The four years we’ve worked to accumulate reputable reviews on our Facebook page that we earned were destroyed.
Fiverr is notorious for being a cheap and easy option to initiate attacks like this to either lower or raise online ratings. When we looked into the site ourselves to try to pinpoint someone who may be responsible, we found one particular account that claimed to leave 100 fake one-star or five-star Facebook reviews for any business. It didn’t seem like anyone else on Fiverr could guarantee that many reviews, maybe 20 at the most.
We had our eye on this particular Fiverr account all week after the first attack on our page. The account had a happy customer with a very memorable avatar who left them a positive review recommending the service.
With the help of the inbound.org community, we tracked down that happy customer’s Facebook page and noticed that they had received 100 five-star reviews from the same fake profiles that had also given us 100 one-star reviews. How ironic! We did see that recently this particular Fiverr gig has since been removed.
Lesson #3: Sometimes You Need To Just Take Matters into Your Own Hands When It Comes To Fighting Online Reviews
Feeling helpless after Facebook initially refused to help us, we decided we didn’t want to be the victim in the situation. As a team, we felt like it was time to take matters into our own hands.
We quickly worked on a message to send out to our Facebook community asking them for help. If we weren’t getting Facebook’s help, we weren’t going to just let this happen to us. We knew we needed to take a stand. On Thursday, we created and shared our message to our followers explaining what happened:
Lesson #4: When We Needed The Help And Support From Our Community The Most, They Stepped Up
This is really the part of the story that still has me feeling an intense amount of pride. When we released our statement on Facebook, I was a little worried it wouldn’t really stick. Because Facebook posts have terrible organic reach, I thought maybe a few hundred people would see it, and we’d see a few reviews trickle in. But, boy, was I wrong.
The post went viral! Everyone couldn’t believe our transparency, and so many people were shocked and outraged by the event. And not only that, we accumulated over 200 positive five-star reviews that were actually EARNED. It was the best feeling in the world to keep refreshing to see customer after customer talking about their experiences shopping at Long’s. People who have since moved away but will always come back to Long’s. People who haven’t been to a store in years but have cherished memories from when they bought their engagement and wedding rings. People who are saving up for their next favorite piece from us.
I couldn’t believe, and still can’t believe, the community of loyal fans and customers who came out to speak up and leave us reviews. We went from 2.3 stars all the way back up to 4.1 stars. It really left us with some positive reinforcement that we are doing something right and treating people with respect.
Lesson #5: The Best Revenge Is No Revenge.
“Why don’t you just hire Fiverr right back?” some have asked us. We’ve always preached ethical business practices, and this situation is no different. We weren’t out for revenge for whoever did this to us. We’ll leave it to karma to do that for us. Instead, we chose to try to earn back our five-star rating. We’re choosing not to fight back with the same dirty tactics, and let me tell you, it feels much better than a cheap revenge shot!
Lesson #6: The Ethical Response Felt Great – But It Didn’t Prevent Another Attack. We Got Hit Again With A Second Wave Of Fake Reviews the Next Week
As much as I’d love to make this a feel good story about how a small, local business triumphed with the power of love from the community to overtake the bad guys, it hasn’t quite worked out that way. During this whole process, we’ve been incredibly thankful and grateful for all the support we’ve received from people all over the country. So many people have come forward to show their support – past customers, fans of our brand, marketers upset that Facebook won’t act, other businesses who also got hit with fake reviews offering their support. The list goes on.
This story seems to fit right in with the larger conversation happening right now about online reviews, and a lot of people empathized with our situation. We don’t regret taking the high road here, but it honestly hasn’t been the most effective or easy road to take. Facebook can’t really help much because of the limitations of their rating system, and a week after the first wave of fake reviews, we got hit again by our competitor with more fake reviews. One step forward and two steps back.
We had worked our way from a 2.3 rating all the way to a 4.1 rating by the end of last week. But, after our competitor saw how effective their first attack was, they ordered another wave of attacks that brought us immediately back down to 3.5 stars. And there really is nothing standing in their way to continue the attacks. While we’re proud of the way we handled this, and we’re elated by the positive responses we received, in the end the lack of assistance from Facebook makes this nearly impossible to overcome on our own.
Lesson #7: Ratings Are The New Currency On The Internet Used To Destroy Brands
A few final thoughts after this is all said and done. First, Facebook needs to step their game up. We won’t be the only ones who push back about this, and if they continue to ignore us and others, people will come fighting. And fighting way harder than we did. We all know how important ratings are to retail businesses, and it shouldn’t be so easy to destroy a brand like this. It baffles me to see such a flawed review system that Facebook refuses to fix without a lot of push back from the victim.
With that said, we couldn’t be more grateful just to have the opportunity to see a community of people come together they way they did to help us. We are so proud of our employees, our customers, and our strong history that have brought us through this.
There may be no formal way to stop these attacks from happening at the current moment, but the most we can do is try to rely on our own business ethics and conduct. It’s really a shame that retailers, especially small local business, are vulnerable to these sorts of attacks. I’m just thankful that we found a platform to be a small part of a much larger conversation.
Where Things Currently Stand With Our Facebook Page (updated 11/24/2015)
I wanted to include a section here that I’ll continue to update as events continue to unfold. Things have moved fairly quickly since my last article on inbound.org just a week ago. Facebook agreed to take a second look at the fake profiles, and it looks like a lot have already been removed. Another 80 reviews were removed within the last two hours before this post was published.
Initial Facebook Rating: 4.8 stars
Current Facebook Rating: 4.9 stars
Earned 5-Star Reviews Gained Since Attack: 227
Fake 1-Star Reviews Still Remaining: 6 visible, 6 included in our overall score
Facebook’s Current Response: Agreed to look into the issue, have since hid some of the negative reviews but not all have been deleted from our overall score just yet (very close to being completely deleted)