From a reader: My wife and I are thinking of trying a new restaurant that just opened. The last time we did that we decided that we would not try another new restaurant until they had been in business long enough to have some customer reviews posted online. Let's just suffice it to say that our dining experience was less than satisfactory. Then, my wife's sister tells me that we should be careful who we trust because there is this thing out there called "astroturfing." Have you ever heard of it?
Action Line: Well, yes as a matter of fact, I have. An individual posting to a public forum under an assumed name is said to be astroturfing. If astroturfing is done by many individuals or someone that is hired to create fake reviews, it can give the reader the illusion that there is widespread support of the restaurant or other type of business for which the fake reviews have been created.
It's no secret that there are people that get paid to write fake reviews. Astroturfing has been used to promote products, political candidates, book reviews, online surveys and businesses. No topic could really be excluded.
Remember, just because it's on the Internet doesn't mean it is true.
There is no way to be 100% certain that the reviews you are reading have not been created by an astroturfer. Read the reviews anyway. Yelp tells us that if you can't see someone saying it in a normal conversation, chances are it's bogus. Avoid the clichés and search for details. Watch for incorrect spelling and punctuation.
Check with bbb.org FIRST. The BBB Business Review can give you great information on the company (in this case, restaurant) in question, including whether it has complaints lodged against it. You can also check with your local city licensing agency and local health department, and check to see if the local newspaper has done a review.
After you have done your research, ask your friends if they have tried the new restaurant. Get a takeout menu to see if the menu choices appeal to your taste buds.
Give the new place a chance! Maybe you will have discovered your new favorite restaurant. Bon appetit!
Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 4201 W. Shaw Ave., Suite 107, Fresno, CA 93722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.