Whether you’re booking a holiday or buying a new smartphone, chances are you’ll probably read a few consumer reviews. Chances are you’ll also trust the reviewer more if you can see their social profile than if they’ve published it under the name “HorsePants32″.
That could be giant a mistake.
According to tech research company Gartner, anywhere between 10 and 15% of reviews that appear on social media could be fake by 2014. Increasingly large numbers of businesses, it says, will pay for positive reviews.
“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 including additional hits on YouTube videos in order to pique site visitors’ interests in the hope of increasing sales, customer loyalty and customer advocacy through social media ‘word of mouth’ campaigns.”
It’s not a completely risk free way of going about things though. Companies that pay for phony reviews have been found out in the past. As well as monetary fines, companies also face the risk of doing massive damage to their brands.
People 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, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.
Companies, he says, “will need to weigh the longer-term risks of being caught and the associated fines and damage to reputation and balance them against the short-term potential rewards of increased business and the prevailing common business practice in their market, often regardless of ethics.”
In fact, some online reputation companies are already requesting sites to take down fake reviews on behalf of their clients. Gartner reckons this mindshift could result in companies who specialise in defending a brand’s online reputation rather than creating it.
Gartner reckons that consumer trust in social media is pretty low at the moment. That might sound a little odd, but think about it like this: who do you trust more, Facebook or your bank? Consumer perception of tightened government regulation and increased media exposure of fake social media ratings and reviews will however ultimately increase consumer trust in new and existing social media ratings and reviews.
“Organizations engaging in social media can help to promote trust by openly embracing both positive and negative reviews and leveraging negative reviews as a way to encourage customers with positive product or service experiences to share them on review sites as well,” Sussin said. “They should also respond to ratings and reviews in an official capacity to demonstrate willingness to engage in productive conversation with anyone.”