Negative social media comments about a brand or business can often spell disaster for a company. Many business owners are willing to do anything to hide negative comments and reviews, including flooding sites with reviews paid for by the companies themselves. By 2014, 10 percent to 15 percent of social media ratings and reviews will be fake, according to a new Gartner report.
"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," maintained Jenny Sussin, the report's author and a 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."
Since 2009, the Federal Trade Commission has required bloggers and social media users who endorse a product to disclose any compensation or free samples that they received in exchange for review or receive a fine. Organizations that pay for fake reviews also risk facing both public condemnation and monetary fines.
The market for producing positive reviews has become increasingly lucrative. In addition to reputation management companies generating favorable comments, other companies are in the business of identifying defaming reviews and requesting that reviewers and the host sites remove them or face legal repercussions. Companies specializing in reputation defense and/or creation is a growing market, according to Gartner.
Increased transparency is necessary to restore consumer trust in social media ratings and reviews, according to Sussin. "Organizations engaging in social media can help to promote trust by...leveraging negative reviews as a way to encourage customers with positive product or service experiences to share them on review sites," Sussin said."They should also respond to ratings and reviews in an official capacity to demonstrate willingness to engage in productive conversation with anyone."