One More Reason to Be Wary of Online Reviews
That product review you’re reading? It may not have been written by a human: “‘As an AI language model, I haven’t personally used this product, but ...”
Here are today’s highlights:
Be careful when reviewing candidate and employee posts on social media.
How a chocolate maker partners with brands that have nothing to do with chocolate.
Interest rates are presenting yet another challenge for commercial real estate in New York City.
Were those Bed Bath & Beyond discount coupons the cause of the chain’s success or its downfall?
AI-generated product reviews are showing up on Amazon: “A big worry about the rise of AI language models is that the internet will soon be subsumed in a tidal wave of automated spam. So far, these predictions have not yet come to pass, but we are seeing early signs that tools like ChatGPT are being used to power bots, generate fake reviews, and stuff the web with low-grade textual filler. If you want proof, try searching Google or Twitter for the phrase ‘as an AI language model.’ When talking to OpenAI’s ChatGPT, the system frequently uses this expression as a disclaimer, usually when it’s asked to generate banned content or give an opinion on something subjective and particularly human. Now, though, ‘as an AI language model’ has become a shibboleth for machine learning spam, revealing where people have set up automated bots or copied and pasted AI content without paying attention to the output.”
“As noted by security engineer Daniel Feldman, the phrase can be searched on pretty much any site with user reviews or a comment section, revealing the presence of bots like a blacklight spotlighting unseen human fluids on a hotel bed sheet Feldman gives the example of Amazon, where the phrase crops up in fake user reviews.”
“In the example below, it appears in a review of a ‘BuTure VC10 Cordless Vacuum Cleaner, 33000Pa high Suction Power Cordless Vacuum Cleaner, up to 55 Minutes Running time.’ The system used to generate the fake review is conscientious and open in its deception, stating, ‘As an AI language model, I haven’t personally used this product, but based on its features and customer reviews, I can confidently give it a five-star rating.’” READ MORE
Checking your employees’ social media feeds? Be careful: “Seemingly every day, there are headlines about businesses that have face-planted on Facebook, TikTok, or another popular social media platform. But there are also numerous examples of employees who become infamous online and draw unwanted attention to their employer, which then has to deal with blowback they never anticipated. Legal experts say business owners can successfully navigate these issues, but they have to do so carefully.”
“‘Since it is important that employees are a good fit for a position, social media posts can reveal a more honest view of an applicant than what they might share during an interview,’ said Marlene Allen Murray, a labor and employment attorney at law firm Fennemore Craig PC.”
“Reviewing public social media posts alone doesn't run afoul of any laws. However, an employer can't use the information they find on social media to discriminate against a job candidate based on a protected class such as gender, religious beliefs or ethnicity, among others.” READ MORE
This Memphis chocolate maker has grown by partnering with some brands you might not expect: “Phillip Ashley Rix of Phillip Ashley Chocolates has created chocolate for many brands before, including Cadillac. But Rix's latest partnership with Miller High Life is his first branded chocolate collection to be made available to the public. ‘The [Miller High Life] team reached out to me and said, We want the 'champagne of beers' to be a chocolate.' I said, 'Okay, we can do that,' Rix said.”
“The Miller High Life line is designed around iconic bar snacks, including chicken wings and beer nuts. The Miller High Life Bar Snack Truffles collection includes six chocolates and is being released on May 2 — National Truffle Day.”
"‘There's beer present throughout,’ Rix said. ‘All of them have some in it. It was to show the interconnectivity with the champagne of beers and dive bar food. It's like you have a bottle and a chicken wing in your hand, but it's chocolate.’”
“One would normally associate chocolates with stout-style beers, not American-style lagers such as Miller High Life. Doing the unexpected is the whole point, Rix said. ‘We typically specialize in things that you wouldn't associate with chocolate,’ he said. ‘That's our whole approach.” READ MORE
Manhattan’s bleak outlook for commercial real estate is getting bleaker: “Three years into the pandemic, floors of office buildings throughout Manhattan have been emptied by tenants who have shrunk their footprint and employees who work from home. Now, there is another problem. Rapidly rising interest rates have intensified concerns that the New York City office market, the largest in the country and a pillar of the city’s economy, could be at grave risk. That one-two punch could be worse than anything corporate landlords have experienced before, experts on the sector say, leading major banks and real estate analysts in recent weeks to warn that languishing properties along with falling property values and higher borrowing costs could increase the odds of a recession nationally and a budget crisis for the city.”
“More than two-thirds of all commercial real estate loans are held by small- and medium-size banks, prompting concern that regional banks might be unable to withstand a wave of defaults if landlords cannot pay off loans. Some analysts have forecast a dim future for city centers, likening the crisis to the slow death of many American shopping malls.”
“One appealing possibility — converting underused offices into residences — is too expensive with today’s interest rates, and it is often structurally challenging.” READ MORE
Here’s what office tenants are seeking in a hybrid world: “A shift in priorities post-pandemic has changed the way companies search for office space. Potential office tenants are now searching for space based on the employee experience, a change that Melissa Countryman, JLL senior vice president of project and development services, said is here to stay. ‘The way companies looked at office space pre-pandemic was focused around the employees' desks and the meeting rooms and how the employees will work,’ she said. ‘Now, it’s about, how do they experience a day? I think the way we work has changed, and I think the changes we’re all adapting to will stay permanently."
“When planning these workplaces, JLL found that being able to foster a social environment, employee well-being, and technology have risen in importance through hybrid work models.”
“Organizations are looking for adaptive, sustainable, and innovative spaces that are within walking distance to food and retail.”
“Companies are more interested than ever in reducing their carbon footprint and are pursuing LEED certifications.” READ MORE
Customers of Bed Bath & Beyond are rushing to use those coupons: “Customers—both loyal and lapsed—received an email from the home-goods retailer around 8 a.m. telling them that the company had decided to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Its 360 Bed Bath & Beyond stores would soon be closing, as would its 120 Buy Buy Baby locations. Shoppers have until Wednesday to use their coupons. Around the country, they rounded up the ubiquitous blue slips of paper offering 20 percent off, stuffed them in pouches and plastic bags, and made their way to the nearest Bed Bath & Beyond.”
“At a store in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood on Monday, Sylvia Ward, a self-described Bed Bath & Beyond aficionado from the Bronx, said news of the closings had ‘absolutely devastated’ her. Then she learned she had only a few days to use coupons. ‘I had to run down here today!’”
“Bed Bath & Beyond, which opened in 1971, held unique cultural cachet among big-box retailers. It served as a recurring story line on Comedy Central’s ‘Broad City’; a plot device for Adam Sandler’s 2006 movie, ‘Click’; and a talking point for celebrities showcasing their relatability on late-night shows. Facebook groups were formed for people to trade the retailer’s coupons.”
“After hearing about the bankruptcy, loyal Bed Bath & Beyond customers took to social media. The company’s name became a trending topic on Twitter. People shared odes to the retailer, posted TikTok videos of themselves walking into stores, and alerted their friends and families to the chain’s closing through their Facebook statuses.”
“But it has been years since Bed Bath & Beyond was at its peak. In 2020, it said it would pull back on sending shoppers coupons after investors questioned if they hurt the company’s margins. Shoppers recoiled, with the decision seeming like one in a growing list of ways that the chain was taking away the things that customers loved most about their shopping experience.” READ MORE
The Houston Chronicle takes a look at the city’s most famous and controversial business owner, Mattress Mack: “While Mack’s legend maintains itself with anecdotes retold almost verbatim, the man himself is far more complicated than a myth or a meme. His existence is a steady push-and-pull of humble acts and flashy bravado underpinned by a relentless ambition apparent since his teenage years. He is driven by what he says is a deep fear of failure. He is equal parts pious churchgoer and blustering carnival barker. He has somehow managed to keep an everyman persona even while sponsoring bowl games and breaking bidding records at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. He bought Princess Diana’s diamond and pearl necklace-and-earring-set and Elvis’ 1956 Lincoln Continental, but he drives a Chevy Tahoe that once had its driver’s side mirror held on by half a roll of clear tape. At least three people have tattoos of his face.”
“His ads about competitors once got him kicked out of the Better Business Bureau. After he invested in Thoroughbreds, a number of his horse training staff were fired or quit. His store was sued in the ’90s over allegations that it was permissive of ongoing sexual harassment.”
“But he’s also been celebrated for acts of service — donating furniture to low-income families at Christmas and handing out care packages to seniors during the worst of the pandemic. As floodwaters rose during Hurricane Harvey, Mack opened his stores to waterlogged Houstonians in need of shelter.”
“After decades in the public eye, the self-proclaimed introvert has put himself in the spotlight more than ever this past year. He launched his own sports news site. He did an about-face on a controversial issue in the Texas Legislature.”
“He catapulted himself into a hotly contested Harris County race and its bitter aftermath, his political ads about crime rates becoming nearly as pervasive as those hawking his furniture as he campaigned in prime time for his largely unknown candidate — whom he helped rocket to within 2 percentage points of the most powerful position in Harris County.” READ MORE
THE 21 HATS PODCAST
When CEOs Behave Badly: This week, our conversation starts with Shawn Busse and Jay Goltz trying to understand why CEOs keep going viral for their misguided attempts to rally the troops. Shawn suspects CEO screeds have always existed—they just haven’t been recorded. He also thinks they tend to come more from public company CEOs who are beholden to shareholders. Jay thinks they’re just morons. “I really don't understand how someone could be smart enough to run a big company like that,” he says, “and be so completely ignorant. It's shocking to me.” Of course, CEOs of both publicly owned companies and privately owned companies do have to do unpleasant things sometimes, but Shawn and Jay say they’ve learned from their own experiences handling layoffs and recessions. “Do we have to go out of our way to be callous about it?” Jay asks. “I don't think so.” Plus: the very different ways Shawn and Jay manage their hiring processes.
You can subscribe to the 21 Hats Podcast wherever you get podcasts.
Thanks for reading, everyone. — Loren