Stepping outside legal subject matter for a moment, did you know that top reviewers on Amazon are publicly listed? Amazon values this group's contributions enough to maintain a Hall of Fame, and cultivates further engagement through its Vine program, where members are given a box of free samples (once or twice a month) in exchange for delivering a couple online reviews.
NPR has an interesting post about the amount of free samples that simply show up "out of the blue" for Amazon's top reviewers. This despite the fact that "Vine reviews have fewer stars, on average" within their system.
It was a message we've heard before: reviews, positive or negative, are valuable to product sales. At least when those reviews are given by the right people.
What I found more interesting about both the HOF and top reviewers lists, is the number of real people (customers) using real names. Who had the most "helpful votes"? Consistently, it was those who took ownership of their opinions. Real people dominated, with anonymous reviewers being in the clear minority.
Amazon's formula for ranking reviewers reflects that:
"A reviewer's rank is determined by the overall helpfulness of all their reviews, factoring in the number of reviews they have written."
First they determine who is receiving the most "helpful" votes, then they temper the astroturfing factor by reducing the impact high-volume-reviewers can have. (Not too much, though, as volume is critical piece to Amazon's review program success.) What's left is a group of trusted customer accounts, who are delivering reviews in both volume and with higher quality scores. So there's something in it for Amazon, and something in it for the consumer.
While we're often told that "marketing services" and "marketing products" are two different animals — and generally, I believe that to be the case — there are always a few takeaways that crossover between these camps. I think this is such a case: The fact that real people are the most "trusted" reviewers of anything is something that impacts all types of marketing.
As online consumers, our trust is given to individuals who take ownership of their opinion. There's probably some grey area for people who assume an online 'handle' and create a persona that develops a following, but purely anonymous reviewers? The trust factor isn't there. At least not within the Amazon review ecosystem.