I read an article about a fine imposed by the FTC on an ad agency. Apparently what the agency did was to ask employees to promote Sony‘s PlayStation Vita on Twitter as if they were “regular” consumers. Agency employees then used their personal Twitter accounts to make positive posts about the gaming device. Obviously there was no disclaimer in each tweet that the person posting was an agency employee or had a financial relationship with the product.
This sort of thing is known as “astroturfing.” It goes on in politics all the time and is “the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization (e.g. political, advertising, religious or public relations) to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participant(s).” Fake reviews are a form of this when they’re written by marketing or PR people on behalf of a company.
I’m not sure what genius thought that this could in any way be considered smart marketing but it’s an expensive lesson. Especially when you put it in this context:
Almost 8 in 10 American adults read online consumer reviews for product and services before making a purchase, with this figure relatively constant across generations, according to a survey from YouGov. The study analyzes the use of online reviews from a variety of angles, finding that a bare majority (51%) of those who read consumer reviews generally read at least 4 before feeling that they have enough information to purchase a product or service…the YouGov survey also finds that among the 44% who post online reviews themselves, 49% (including 58% of 18-34-year-olds) admit to having at some point written reviews for products and services they haven’t actually purchased or tried.
So reviews are important to consumers yet consumers themselves sabotage the reviews’ value. Add that to the astroturfing that goes on and you might say “oh, everyone does it.” As the expression goes, it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye. Get caught, as happened in this case, and you pay financially (the cost to defend a complaint even if there isn’t a fine) and with your reputation (it doesn’t matter if “everyone” does it – you got caught).
There is very little upside to posting fake reviews and a lot of downside. That spells bad idea in my book. Yours?