Checking online reviews has become a normal part of consumer purchasing decisions, and so, companies are paying for or faking these reviews to gain favour and influence preference. By 2014, we could see up to 15 per cent of all online reviews being ‘faked’, according to Gartner, the research company.
“With over half of the Internet’s population on social networks, 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,” said Jenny Sussin, senior research analyst at Gartner. “Many marketers have turned to paying for positive reviews with cash, coupons and promotions.”
However the risk of faking it can be great. Organizations who opt to pay for phoney reviews can, and have, faced both public condemnation as well as monetary fines. In 2009 in the USA, the FTC determined that paying for positive reviews without disclosing that the reviewer had been compensated equates to deceptive advertising and would be prosecuted as such.
As the FTC begins to crack down on this practice of fake reviews/ratings, some social media sites identifying fake and defaming reviews and requesting they be taken down. Gartner analysts said they expect a market of companies specializing in reputation defense versus reputation creation to emerge.
Earlier this week Yelp, a site with more than 78 million visitors and an aim to connect people with great local businesses, announced that it would ‘out’ fake or paid for reviews. The site already filters suspected fake reviews but is introducing alerts that will stay on a business’ page for 90 days or longer. Consumers can click on the alert to see more details on the misleading reviews, including screenshots.
Gartner believes that although consumer trust in social media is currently low, consumer perception of tightened government regulation and increased media exposure of fake social media ratings and reviews will ultimately increase consumer trust in new and existing social media ratings and reviews.
Additional information is available in the Gartner report “The Consequences of Fake Fans, ‘Likes’ and Reviews on Social Networks”. The report is available on Gartner’s web site.