How large? A new Gartner report predicts that increased media attention to fake social media ratings and reviews will result in at least two Fortune 500 brands facing litigation from the FTC over the next two years. Social media brand properties are now subject to the same rules and regulations that apply to advertising: Paying for positive reviews without disclosing that the reviewer had been compensated equates to deceptive advertising and would be prosecuted as such.
But this FTC ruling doesn’t equate to less fakery going forward by Gartner’s estimation. The good news is that Gartner sees consumer trust in new and existing social media ratings and reviews increasing going forward. The bad news is this will result in more paid (fake) social media ratings and reviews, which Gartner predicts will reach 10% to 15% of all reviews by 2014.
The New York Times has been on this story for a while now:
- For $2 a Star, an Online Retailer Gets 5-Star Product Reviews
- The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy
- Company Settles Case of Reviews It Faked
“Advertising disguised as editorial is an old problem, but it’s now presenting itself in different ways,” Mary K. Engle, Federal Trade Commission’s associate director for advertising practices said to The New York Times. “We’re very concerned.”
Even Google has sponsored research to identify groups of bogus product reviewers. Through a Google Faculty Research Award, University of Illinois researchers produced a study titled Spotting Fake Reviewer Groups in Consumer Reviews, which aims to uncover opinion spam using a new relation-based algorithm called Group Spam Rank.
Gartner’s most recent research uncovers more service providers aimed to ‘improve’ an organization’s perceived audience and reputation. Companies like SocialJump charge $75 for 1,000 Facebook “likes,” an additional $10 gets clients geotargeted “likes” all from real people, not spam bots. SocialJump also provides “+1s” on Google+, additional followers on Twitter, and thousands of views on YouTube videos. Gartner estimates there at least 50 other organizations selling these kind of services, including SocialKik.com, MyFBfans, and Fan Bullet. And it’s not just “Likes” they are selling. Reputation management services also include paid (fake) reviews, and if this is not disclosed, can now result in prosecution by the FTC.
Anonymous ratings and fake fans will have a short shelf life in social media, and offer zero value to marketers. In fact, if you’re savvy and analyzing your social media audience to develop customer personas and target audience segments for campaigns, fake followers will muddy your data and cost you money. If you spot them, you should eliminate them from your data set. On the flip side, if you feel you’re under attack from paid spammers, stay transparent and respond to all social inquiries promptly and courteously. You’ll find your own advocates will likely come to your rescue and spot fake reviewers right away.
Tying reviews and reviewers to social networks is the best way that consumers can have some sort of validation of a review’s authenticity. You can see who the person is and the context of the testimonial, which is why word-of-mouth endorsement remains the most effective way of fake-proofing an opinion. Most successful brands will enable their greatest fans to express brand enthusiasm in a natural, visual way, and those without transparency or true advocates won’t make the grade.