Product reviews, whether coming from Amazon, Rotten Tomatoes, or Yelp, can make or break your Internet marketing efforts. There’s a lot at stake and that means plenty of outlets resort to illicit practices (read: faux users and spambots) to improve their reputation. In a Gartner study, analysts found that by 2014, between 10 and 15 percent of social media reviews will be faked.
Over half of the Internet population use social networks, and a handful of those platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+), house a dense concentration of users that are sharing and promoting content on their own accord. It is word of mouth 2.0 and it’s a powerful and lucrative marketing opportunity. So powerful, in fact, that analysts predict that at least two Fortune 500 companies will face litigation from the Federal Trade Commission in the next two years for illicit social media practices.
“Organizations are scrambling for new ways to build bigger follower bases, generate more hits on videos, garner more positive reviews than their competitors and solicit ‘likes’ on their Facebook pages,” Jenny Sussin, senior research analyst at Gartner said in a statement.
Just scanning Craigslist jobs shows you the potential for careers in faux brand promotion. Desperate companies will often offer a small compensation in exchange for a positive review of their product, even if the reviewer never set foot within the restaurant or never used the product in question. It seems like a harmless scheme that quickly pays a few bucks, but the FTC ruled that reviews for products without appropriate disclosures, including being paid off or receiving a free gift, is a deceptive advertising strategy and can be prosecuted with a fine.
Several years ago, the FTC’s Guide Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising impacted the blogging community, which responded angrily. Bloggers under this ruling have been required to disclose to readers of any payments, affiliations, or free products recieved in exchange for a review.
While the noise around blogging has died down, criminal online and social media practices have consequently evolved. Businesses can easily purchase “Likes” on Facebook or “Followers” on Twitter for a low as five dollars on sites like Fiverr. Anyone resorting to this strategy would know that they would be acquiring fake users or users that have no interest in your business, but with the pressure on marketers to perform, paying to bolster a company’s reputation with a few more thousand followers can be incredibly tempting.
“Marketing, customer service, and IT social media managers looking to use reviews, fans and ‘Likes’ to improve their brand’s reputation on social media must beware of the potential negative consequences on corporate reputation and profitability,” said Ed Thompson, Gartner Vice President and analyst.
While companies tangle with this ethical and legal dilemma surrounding social media practices, Facebook has made strides with shutting down accounts and removing “Likes” that fail to abide by its terms of service. As we reported, as many as 83 million accounts are “fake” accounts, and Facebook’s latest effort to clean house affected less than one percent of any given Facebook Page.