As a result, some businesses have begun to ramp up the amount they spend on paid reviews.
In fact, according to a new Gartner study, by 2014, as much as 15 percent of all social media reviews online will be paid for, rather than voluntarily submitted by satisfied customers.
“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.”
The US Federal Trade Commission has begun to take notice of this trend, and it’s considering the use of paid reviews as a form of deceptive advertising. As such, the FTC has started litigating instances where they find companies not disclosing that reviewers have received some form of compensation in return for their glowing recommendations. But, will the FTC’s scrutiny have an effect on corporate use of bogus endorsements?
Let’s hope so. As Gartner vice president Ed Thompson warns, “CMOs 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.”
Some organizations may already be heeding this warning, as practices deemed as misleading by the public are shared at light speed across cyberspace, and a company’s reputation can tank in less time than it took to write the false praise. (Not to mention the costs of fines and associated litigation.)
As I have discussed before, online reviews can offer enormously valuable opportunities for marketers to showcase customer service, improve the customer experience and even drive sales. But of course, the most potent reviews are genuine, representing true customer engagement with your brand.