Online forums, message boards and product and service reviews have become an important source of information for making decisions. They are becoming as important as personal endorsements and recommendations from people you know, friends, family, workmates and neighbours. 

People today are turning to online forums, message boards and other online sources for information on just about everything, including advice on which surgeon to go to for cosmetic surgery. But not everything you see online is genuine feedback or endorsement based on personal experience. In a disturbing trend in Australia and around the world, unscrupulous elements are taking advantage of these online platforms to push their products and services, while trashing the products and reputations of competitors. So beware of fake reviews, either positive or negative.

Online info sources gain ground among consumers

A Cisco study that included 5,000 shoppers across five countries—the U.S., U.K., Brazil, Mexico and China—found that online resources exert a strong influence over the decisions consumers make. Nearly eight out of ten of those in the survey told Cisco that they use the internet to purchase and research products and services. According to the Cisco news release, “Of all the information sources that influence today’s buying decisions, online ratings and reviews on retailer websites are cited as most influential in purchase decisions by 52 percent of respondents, followed by advice from friends and family (49 percent).” The study showed that in the past two years the role of “expert online reviews by consumer groups, expert buyers, and bloggers,” in purchase influence has grown. Shoppers prefer online ratings and reviews by a 4:1 margin over advice from store employees.

A different study showed that when it comes to influence, traditional media is losing out to online sources. Consumers’ age was an important factor in analysing the decision-making process. Millenial’s—consumers between ages 16 and 24—are 54 percent more likely than the average respondent to seek product information from social media.

Growing influence of online info on cosmetic surgery decisions

Although family, friends and colleagues influence many of our decisions, people are not always willing to turn to them for information, especially with respect to cosmetic surgery. They may not believe that close connections will have the info needed. Or it could be a desire to keep their cosmetic surgery private, even from those near and dear. This is a common phenomenon in Australia and is perfectly understandable.

Although there is a growing acceptance of cosmetic surgery, many people, both men and women prefer not to expose themselves to a judgmental world. This may be another reason why cosmetic surgery decision-making is heavily influenced by online sources. Why do people resort to the advice and recommendations of total strangers? Perhaps because internet information is easy to access and anonymous.

Whatever your reason for seeking information online, especially when it concerns cosmetic surgery, be aware that what you see may not be genuine.

Overly positive or negative reviews should raise red flags

Keep your cynical side alive when checking out online forums and message boards, or when seeking surgeon or treatment recommendations.

Understandably, a surgeon’s own website or blog posts positive comments from patients. Who would post comments from a dissatisfied client on their own blog or website? Doctors especially steer clear of former patients with mental health issues. Cosmetic surgeons are now required by law to ensure that their patients are psychologically stable and do not suffer from conditions like Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

Gushing endorsements in an online forum or a message board may be genuine, but whenever you see such comments, be aware that the super-positive post may have been written by the surgeon, a staff member or even an online marketer. This isn’t just about “everybody does it.” In Australia it is illegal to post fake reviews, whether good or bad. Unfortunately, neither law nor ethics have stopped the growing trend of businesses and professionals to use positive reviews to push their own agendas while trashing the businesses of others.

Early this year a well-known Australian plastic surgeon sued a man for defamation, accusing him of creating fake accounts and posting reviews and comments that were detrimental to the plastic surgeon’s reputation. The surgeon, who performs face and breast surgeries, found negative reviews, as well as criticism aimed at the positive reviews of genuinely satisfied clients, accusing them of being fake reviewers. A forensic computer scientist found that seven members of one forum shared the same address. The forum, which claims to be ‘Australia’s largest cosmetic and plastic surgery community’, has since removed the surgeon’s name from its posts, but the posts themselves remain online. These have done real damage to the surgeon’s practice.

How to tell what is fake or real

Here are a few strategies to consider. They do not guarantee that you will always be able to tell the fake from the genuine, but they can serve as a guideline.

  • Look at the dates – Fake reviews are often produced in batches. So if you come across clusters of reviews all written around the same time, you have cause to suspect their veracity.
  • Overly negative or positive – Too much of either should be suspect. Most people give balanced reviews. If dissatisfied they are likely to give specific reasons. But scammers know this too and may produce a mix of three, four and five star reviews.
  • Look at the language – People often hire reviewers from overseas whose language is not what you’d expect from a person paying thousands of dollars for elective cosmetic surgery. Of course good writers can be hired overseas or in Australia. And some genuine clients may not write perfect English or check their spelling and grammar. Go with your gut feeling. If you smell a rat, pay attention.
  • Look at styles – If you find a number of reviews all written in a similar style, you know what you are getting.

Unlike book reviews, you can’t always count on even the genuinely pleased or annoyed customers to use their real names. Most people use a pseudonym.

In the end, it is a case of “buyer beware.” Just keep in mind that good as other people’s endorsements and opinions may be, nothing is as good as an initial consultation with a flesh and blood surgeon or doctor. Do your homework and prepare a list of questions. If you’re still not sure, get a second opinion.

And if you feel you’ve read a fake review online, you can lodge a complaint with the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC).

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