Reviews by individual buyers often express a personal view of their experience about the products or services. So their writing styles are most varied, and such differences reflect the heterogeneity in their culture, education, occupation, etc. However, it is a different story for manipulators. Logically the writing style and readability of customers should be random and vary across time. If reviews are consistently monitored and posted by manipulators under some circumstances, then the observed reviews will be a mix of true customer reviews and manipulators’ reviews. Thus, the writing styles of observed reviews won’t be random with the existence of manipulators. Most of the time manipulators use persuasion strategies to convince other customers to trust and buy. In ancient Greece, the art of using language to persuade was called rhetoric. Aristotle, a Greek philosopher determined three significant forms of rhetoric:
- Ethos: how the character and credibility of a writer/speaker influence an audience to believe him/her
- Pathos: the use of emotional appeals to alter the audience’s judgment (metaphors, emotive language, and sentiments) that stimulate strong emotions in the audience.
- Logos: the use of reasoning to construct and support an argument (statistics, logic, etc.)
Manipulators tend to use positive reinforcement in the form of emotive language such as sentiments, to write reviews in a biased manner to affect a potential customer’s purchase decision. The use of such biasing behavior is common in public relations, lobbying, law, marketing, professional writing and advertising where the goal of the writer is to influence the third’s party opinion or belief. For example, Gurun and Butler found that local media used less negative words when they reported news about local companies than when they reported about non-local companies because local companies spent more on advertising.
In addition to the sentiments of writing style, another crucial aspect that is used to identify manipulation is readability. Readability is a measure of how easy a piece of text is to read. It contains factors of complexity, familiarity, legibility, and typography. Readability formulas usually look at factors like syllable density, sentence length and word familiarity as part of their calculations.
The readability of the review could also influence the size of a writer's audience. For genuine consumers that posted reviews in order to share their evaluation of the product, the readability of the reviews might not be of great concern. In fact, the readability of a review written by a genuine customer should be random due to the variations in customers' educational background, clarity of expression, ability to communicate their thoughts appropriately, and so on. But for manipulators, whose intention is trying to reach a large and unselected audience successfully, readability would be of great concern. Intuitively, manipulated reviews should be consistent in terms of readability.
To conclude, online reviews are indeed a powerful promotional tool for marketing communication. Although it can help build relationships with customers and boost sales, it is extremely unethical to promote manipulated reviews.