Could Manipulating Glassdoor Ratings Just be Just Smart Brand Management?

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I LEARNED LONG AGO that user ratings — whether they be on Yelp, Amazon, TripAdvisor, or anywhere else — are easily manipulated.

So, is anyone surprised that Glassdoor ratings get manipulated, too?

The Wall Street Journal recently published an in-depth look at how some companies have figured out how to boost their ratings on Glassdoor by encouraging employees to say good things about them.

The cry on social media to this story was immediate. Many people were shocked — SHOCKED! — that Glassdoor ratings could be manipulated like that.

This is NOT a big surprise

Here’s my take: I wonder why so many are surprised that anonymous website ratings can be inflated by people with the money and the means to do so.

But, this should also concern any and every Talent Acquisition professional: Given how job candidates take these ratings into their decision-making process, manipulating Glassdoor ratings, although not terribly surprising, is a pretty big deal.

The WSJ story spelled it out, saying:

Glassdoor has become an important arbiter of employee sentiment in today’s highly competitive job market. A Wall Street Journal investigation shows it can be manipulated by employers trying to sway opinion in their favor.

An analysis of millions of anonymous reviews posted on Glassdoor’s site identified more than 400 companies with unusually large single-month increases in reviews. Some companies, including Elon Musk’s rocket company Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and software giant SAP SE , have had multiple spikes.

During the vast majority of these surges, the ratings were disproportionately positive compared with the surrounding months, the Journal’s analysis shows.”

Don’t get fixated on the ratings

If you dig into the Journal’s story, it’s pretty clear that some companies simply do some targeted internal marketing and  ask employees if they might consider posting something on Glassdoor that says how much they like their job.

And guess what? There are a lot of workers are willing to do that.

The WSJ story goes on to note that:

“Spokespeople for Slack, LinkedIn and Anthem said their companies have encouraged employees to give feedback. … In some cases, companies have encouraged loyal employees to post reviews as part of a publicity campaign. SpaceX and SAP, for example, galvanized employees to leave reviews to make Glassdoor’s annual ranking of the “Best Places to Work.”

Other companies, including Guaranteed Rate, have pressured employees to write positive reviews in order to raise poor ratings, according to interviews with current and former employees. Guaranteed Rate’s (CEO) said in a written statement that his management team felt Glassdoor ratings didn’t accurately reflect the company’s work environment and so it asked employees to post reviews.”

The problem with all of this chatter about Glassdoor ratings is a simple fact: Anyone who gets too fixated on the ratings ANY employee-rating website is short-changing themselves.

It’s about managing your company reputation

Fistful of Talent Grand Poobah (and HR savant) Kris Dunn made this very point way back in 2015 when he wrote,

The only people who use Glassdoor and sites like it are disgruntled ex-employees that you fired, right? Wrong. It was wrong 5 years ago, and it’s horribly wrong today. Rather than view these types of sites as a threat, smart HR and Recruiting pros are learning how to use the reputation/rating sites to manage their employment brand, connect with candidates and make better hires.”

If you agree, like I do, with the point my friend Kris Dunn is making, remember that companies encouraging employees to write reviews on Glassdoor are doing two things:

  1. Manipulating the Glassdoor system in a way that it was not originally intended; and,
  2. By smartly managing their “employment brand in this way, they connect with more candidates and make better hires.

The big question in the wake of The Wall Street Journal’s investigation is simply this: Is there anything all that wrong with companies for doing that?

The underlying premise to The Wall Street Journal story is that there is, but really, if you DON’T work at managing your company’s reputation on sites like Glassdoor, who will?

This is life in the 21st Century, for better or for worse. As my friend Kris Dunn says, “The outside world now has a huge say in how your company/employment brand is perceived, whether you engage or not. FOT thinks you should engage.”

I say “Amen” to that. Time for me to stop writing and start engaging.

A version of this first appeared on the Fistful of Talent blog.

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