We recently posted a story discussing whether fake “user” reviews posted to social media and retail sites on behalf of clients could be considered acceptable PR tools. The overwhelming response we received from PR professionals strongly hinted at a critical consensus: While the practice is somewhat common, it is never OK.
Gerard F. Corbett, Chairman and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America, even weighed in to state unequivocally that posting reviews under fake names is unethical and should not be tolerated by any respectable PR organization.
Unfortunately, researchers behind a newly released Gartner study believe that the practice will only continue to grow despite our ethical quandaries. It’s a bit of a chicken-egg scenario: As consumers conduct more of their research and shopping online, positive social media reviews will become more and more important to brands—and in the rush to establish and expand a product’s online reputation, quite a few individuals will end up breaking the rules. (Researchers place the percentage of fake reviews at 10-15% by 2014.)
According to Gartner, someone will pay for cheating—and soon.
Analysts estimate that the Federal Trade Commission will sue at least two Fortune 500 companies over the next two years under a 2009 decision that classified the act of purchasing fake reviews as false advertising. Fortune 500’s aren’t the only parties in jeopardy, either: In 2010, an ad firm called Reverb Communications settled with the FTC after posting positive reviews on the iTunes store without disclosing the fact that its reps had been paid to do so. Expect this kind of story to begin popping up more often in the months and years to come.
While we do think it’s a good thing to discourage blatantly false advertising and promotional practices, we wonder how PR firms can convince a skeptical public that they are above all this—especially when the practice doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
PR pros: Will Gartner’s findings damage the credibility of PR representatives in general? How can we effectively curb this practice?