Word-of-mouth has long been a driver of small business success (and failure), and these days it takes the form of online customer reviews. But the relative anonymity provided by the Web has added a new wrinkle: review fraud.
In fact, fake reviews have been a real problem on Yelp. Last fall the popular user-review site started publicly shaming unscrupulous businesses trying to game its platform by posting consumer alerts on the Yelp pages of companies paying for positive reviews. Another common problem is negative reviews posted by personal enemies or competitors using phony profiles.
Stik is trying to attack the fake review issue in a different way, allowing only people with names, faces, and legitimate social media profiles to post reviews. Doing so is free and merely involves signing in with a Facebook or LinkedIn login, then inviting friends and connections within those social networks and your address book to review a business.
According to Stik co-founder Jay Gierak, requiring businesses and reviewers to login with Facebook or LinkedIn makes it much more difficult for impostors to wreak havoc on a business via bad reviews and ratings because both networks are diligent about sniffing out sockpuppets.
"Most of that behavior is able to be stamped out by the networks themselves," he says. "Facebook has huge teams dedicated to making sure there aren't fake profiles and it has all these complicated algorithms that flag what they perceive to be fishy activity."
Gierak says in the nearly three years his website has been running, someone using a counterfeit Facebook account has only been able to post a fake review to Stik once and that Stik immediately took it down.
Whereas Yelp feels more consumer-focused, Stik's front page talks to businesses, offering stats that speak to the increased inbound leads, clients and retention that come from having reviews. It's a tool local businesses and professionals such as real estate agents, mortgage bankers, insurance agents, financial planners, and lawyers can use to garner ratings and reviews from their friends, contacts, and followers.
The goal, says Gierak, is to get people sharing business reviews within these social networks. And for $49 a month Stik will provide you or your webmaster with HTML code to include Stik ratings on your website, in your email signature, or on your Facebook business page or profile (and if you need Stik to do it for you, the company will). For $79 a month the company adds Web reputation monitoring.
Signing up through Facebook or LinkedIn does require giving Stik permission to access a generous amount of your friends' Facebook data, and it won't let you completely opt out of letting Stik post on your behalf (the most private you could be in that respect is to let it share your post information only with yourself in your own Facebook activity log).
If you think about it, though, a business using Stik is going after publicity so there's really no reason someone trying to amass reviews would want to restrict posting about them. It's the same with friends and fans seeking to share a positive review of a business they're trying to help.
"We're sort of in a unique place where the whole purpose of our business is to facilitate high value interaction and content to spread amongst people that know each other across networks," Gierak says. "How valuable is it to find out that your sister has [a certain] insurance agent and she would never work with anyone else? That's really valuable."
Gierak says Stik is used by nearly 200,000 businesses, features more than 2.7 million recommendations and reviews, and gets about 250,000 unique visitors a month.