How do you decide which products you’re going to buy?
Do you rely on the recommendations of trusted friends and acquaintances, or do you, like many people these days, rely on social media reviews? Well, if you’ve previously put your faith in peer reviews or the recommendations of Facebook friends, you may just have to change your ways. A new report by U.S. research firm, Gartner, suggests that many of us have been had. The company believes that a considerable number of the recommendations we can see on social media sites are bogus, and by 2014 between 10 and 15% of the user reviews you’ll read on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ will in fact have been paid for by the companies who make the products.
Naturally there will be some consumers who will be shocked by these figures, though there have been suspicions for some time that all was not what it seemed.
The social media is no longer just about harmless fun and banter; it’s about business, and business demands serious and sometimes ruthless marketing when things get overly competitive. It’s this high level of competition that has driven some companies to start throwing curved balls according to Jenny Sussin, senior research analyst at Gartner:
“With over half of the Internet’s population on social networks, organisations 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. Many marketers have turned to paying for positive reviews with cash, coupons, and promotions…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.”
Should the new findings surprise us? Well, not really. Companies have been paying for reviews for quite a while. In fact some companies have been cited for offering consumers rewards just for saying nice things about their products. The issue of manufactured and sponsored online recommendations became such an issue last year that Cornell University researchers developed software specifically designed to detect such fake reviews. The software proved to be quite a success and was able to spot fakes around 90% of the time. Unfortunately the average Joe only manages to spot 1 in 2 fake reviews, hence the need for the software. However, it’s the remaining 10 percent that is causing the problem, and they’re the ones which Gartner has identified.
So how are the authorities likely to tackle this hard-core rump?
Well, Gartner believes that they will start to play hardball. In fact the research group believes that as more attention is given to social-media reviews, at least two Fortune 500 brands will be served with a lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission because of their underhand practices. According to Gartner Vice President, Ed Thompson, companies who use these practices will have to watch their backs over the coming months as the authorities are on the war path.
“Chief marketing officers 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.”
Further discussions on the issue will take place at Gartner’s Symposium later this year in Barcelona.