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Some Yelp Reviews Are Fake

There have been a lot of stories recently about certain Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews being fake – paid for by unscrupulous restaurant and store owners (here are a few: http://goo.gl/LVKTiK, http://goo.gl/WKNo4n and http://goo.gl/4ZrDOw). I don’t blame these sites, they simply have too many reviews to vet them all. In fact, they rely on automated algorithms to do most of their work. I wish them luck because I love their service, but it’s a problem that’s not going to go away for them since they let you review basically every consumer-facing business on the planet and they will probably never be able to keep ahead of the unscrupulous and ingenious folks who want to game their system in massive numbers. In order for these sites to be a trusted source of objective information, they first and foremost need to ensure their audience that all reviews are authored by legitimate, objective, and credible sources.

That brings me to a subject near and dear to my heart, the Proformative Exchange review site for “Office of the CFO” focused products and services - https://www.proformative.com/exchange. Corporate finance professionals spend a lot of time and effort buying things. From corporate liability insurance to finance technology (e.g. ERP and CPM systems, etc.) to tax, legal and audit services. It’s all high dollar, high importance and high risk. You would think that there would be many resources available for product and service discovery and vetting. However, there are not.

Until Proformative came along. Among our tens of thousands of discussions and comments, roughly one third are related to buying products and services. That number was so high it surprised all of us here and led to the creation of the Proformative Exchange. Clearly corporate finance leaders were in desperate need of a peer-based purchasing resource. Here are a few examples straight from the site: ADP vs. Paychex http://goo.gl/qvUN09 was a popular question. Answered by more than 30 people and viewed over 40,000 times. Clearly a purchase many folks are researching. Here’s one asking about accounting software http://goo.gl/PfGKkb which was answered by 70 people and viewed over 8,000 times. Further, NetSuite, a popular ERP system, is mentioned (currently) in 116 discussions, 11 articles and 7 blogs on the site, with a collective hundreds of thousands of reads and hundreds of comments. Yup, our user base spends a lot of time figuring out how to spend their companies’ hard earned money. Given that blown purchases are a fireable offense, it’s not surprising.

Traditionally we may have asked our network of trusted service providers for their suggestions when it comes to purchasing, but that is slow and incredibly ineffective. Sure your audit partner has customers using a major system or two, but they have rarely if ever use those systems themselves (auditors do not use ERP or BI systems day-to-day like a Controller or VP of Finance would), and they only know of a couple out of scores or even hundreds of such systems from their second-hand perch. Beyond that there is your personal network, but their exposure is also limited to just a system or two of each variety and they are as busy as you are. So if you’re lucky enough to get a hold of them you will get a very narrow perspective – for which we are very thankful.

Thus, we built the Proformative Exchange https://www.proformative.com/exchange to harness the real-world inputs of our user base of corporate finance practitioners. We have made it easy to review and find reviews of thousands of products and services aimed entirely at the office of the CFO. These reviews help our users make decisions based on peer inputs that they don’t have to spend untold hours getting and vetting – we do that.

To ensure the quality of these reviews Proformative has a Triple Vetting Review Process™ in place.

  1. Must be a corporate finance or directly related practitioner
  2. Must be a real, verifiable person
  3. Must not be in the product/service ecosystem they are reviewing

We start by making sure that the reviewer is a corporate finance or related practitioner. What does that mean? Corporate finance, accounting, treasury, tax, internal audit, etc., are the functional titles we allow to review products and services. I’m sure there’s some value to a marketing manager or sales exec reviewing an ERP system, but they can review on another site. We quite literally won’t allow it. We look to LinkedIn profiles to get their title and background information, and if there is not enough information there to give assurance that the person is a corporate finance professional, we will look for them on their company’s website, or, failing that, we will email them directly and ask about their title and background. Yes, we have real human beings here in the U.S. doing this vetting, and it assures both points one and two above: corporate finance or related practitioner and that the reviewer exists and isn’t just a front. We can’t guarantee that they’ll give you the right advice or that you would agree with their assessments, but we do our homework so that you know they are who they say they are and that they are a finance or related practitioner like you.

We don’t just look at the person’s title, however. We look at their company. And we look at their company’s website. We do that to ensure that they don’t work for the company being reviewed, don’t work for a reseller or partner of that company, and that they don’t work for a competitor or competitive reseller/partner.

Wow, that’s a lot of manual process for each review. Why do we do it? Because to not do it would mean that we can’t have high confidence in the utility and value of our user’s reviews. And we care.

By the way, we never change reviews, either positive or negative, due to vendor pressure. We have been asked to edit or remove negative reviews by some of the biggest companies in the world and we simply won’t do it.

Since we have many million fewer product and service reviews than Yelp, we can deliver on our Triple Vetting Review Process™. And we will continue to do so in order to maintain the quality and utility of this site to our users. The Proformative Exchange: high quality, peer-based reviews for your mission critical “Office of the CFO” products and services - https://www.proformative.com/exchange. You can’t afford not to use it.

Comments

John Harmon
Title: Owner
Company: John Harmon CPA
(Owner, John Harmon CPA) |

Thank you Mr. Kogan. There is a quality here not found in many other places.

PS: The method I employ for finding seeded reviews on Yelp is as follows. If the reviewer mentions more than 2 food items, the chances of the review being fake increases exponentially. Think about a restaurant you've been to once or a few times. How much of the menu can you describe in detail? However, the owners and promoters of these same restaurants want to communicate their entire array of offerings in order to cast a broader net.
I wonder if that would work with accounting software or payroll services reviews as well?

John Kogan
Title: CEO/CFO
Company: Proformative, Inc.
(CEO/CFO, Proformative, Inc.) |

Hilarious. That's a great tip. I really do like a lot about Yelp and want to continue using it. Thanks, John.

Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |

John - this was a great read. I think I can speak for the community when I say we appreciate the thought and diligence your team has put into the review process. Wish the Exchange was around before we implemented our ERP, FP&A, and T&E systems though fortunately we made out well.

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