Beware of social-media reviews in the coming years.
Between 10 percent and 15 percent of all user reviews on social-media sites will be paid for by companies selling the products, research firm Gartner reported today in a new study.
"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," Jenny Sussin, senior research analyst at Gartner, said today in a statement. "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."
Paying for reviews is, of course, nothing new. And over the years, companies have been cited for offering consumers rewards for saying nice things about their products. In fact, the issue is so prevalent across the Web that last year, Cornell University researchers developed software designed to detect fake reviews. The software gets it right about 90 percent of the time, easily beating the average person, who identifies a fake review only half the time.
By paying for reviews, however, companies might find themselves in trouble. In fact, Gartner believes that as more attention is given to social-media reviews, at least two Fortune 500 brands will get hit with a lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission over their practices.
"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," Gartner Vice President Ed Thompson said in a statement.
Gartner plans to discuss the impact fake reviews might have on companies and consumers at its 2012 Symposium later this year in Barcelona.