Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Huawei Responds to Allegations of Soliciting Fake Reviews for the Mate 10 Pro on Best Buy

Huawei is the third largest smartphone OEM in the world (for a brief period last year, they were even the second largest), but the brand is relatively unknown in the United States. That’s because the device maker does not offer any of its smartphones for sale through carriers such as AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, or T-Mobile. There were rumors that their latest Huawei Mate 10 Pro would be sold through AT&T, but those plans fell through at the very last minute. Still, the company plans to offer the Mate 10 Pro through Amazon and Best Buy, though it hasn’t actually gone on sale yet.

In anticipation of the upcoming February 18th release date, 9to5Google discovered a post made by Huawei on their private Facebook group that allegedly solicits positive Best Buy reviews “in exchange for a chance to be one of a few ‘beta testers'” of the Mate 10 Pro. 9to5Google points out that, although the phone has yet to go on sale, there were 108 positive reviews for the phone on its Best Buy listing. The publication notes that the solicitation was posted on January 31st and that 105 out of the total 108 reviews were made after Huawei’s Facebook post went live.

Huawei Mate 10 Pro

Screenshots of the (now)-deleted Facebook posts on Huawei’s private page

The reviews that were posted to the Best Buy page can be viewed here9to5Google amassed a collection of some of the more glowing reviews that were posted, including one that explicitly referenced the beta test giveaway. You can view those posts on 9to5Google’s screenshot gallery. Finally, 9to5Google finishes their report by stating that these reviews may violate Best Buy’s guidelines for product reviews.

According to the Best Buy knowledge base, the company “reserve[s] the right not to post your review if it contains any of the following types of content” which includes “advertisements, ‘spam’ content, or references to other products, offers, or websites.” These comments are arguably spam, and also reference an offer on Huawei’s private Facebook page, so there is an argument that these comments violate Best Buy’s guidelines.

I reached out to Huawei for comment, and received this statement in response:

Huawei’s first priority is always the consumer and we encourage our customers to share their experiences with our devices in their own voice and through authentic conversation. We believe there is confusion around a recent social media post reaching out to recruit new beta testers.  While there are reviews from beta testers with extensive knowledge of the product, they were in no way given monetary benefits for providing their honest opinions of the product. However, we are working to remove posts by beta testers where it isn’t disclosed they participated in the review program.

In this statement, Huawei does not deny that they were recruiting beta testers in this manner. However, they state that the reviews from beta testers were reflective of their “honest opinions” of the Mate 10 Pro and that there were no monetary benefits involved. The company states that they will work with Best Buy to remove posts from anyone who did not disclose they participated in the review program.

Now, it is certainly problematic that this Facebook post was allegedly shared to an audience of over 60,000 members. Personally, I think that such a program should have been restricted to only those users who have actually used the product (which, since the phone is not available in the U.S, would be only those few persons who imported it). Indeed, there do appear to be some reviews from users who have apparently actually used the device before, but many of the reviews were from users who clearly had only read about the phone online.

Ultimately, I think this is an example of a poorly thought out marketing initiative. If Huawei truly intended to sneak hundreds of false advertisements onto its Best Buy page, then they did a poor job of concealing it since their Facebook page is home to over 60,000 members who could have possibly seen this and spoken up (as one or more users apparently did when contacting 9to5Google).

I can’t defend what Huawei did here as it is clear that this could’ve been handled better (such as seeding devices to U.S. members and then having them leave a review—a common practice on Amazon which is acceptable so long as the seeding is disclosed), but I don’t think this is evidence they were trying to intentionally mislead consumers. Rather, it’s just another example of how the company should work to better understand their new audience and improve their U.S. and Western European marketing initiatives.

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