Fake Followers and Reviews: Approach at Your Own Peril

We've all depended on online reviews one way or another. Consumer behaviour theory suggests that we humans are hardwired to search for information about a particular product before purchasing it – whether it be through asking friends, family members or simply looking to the Internet for reviews. For companies, a slew of good/bad reviews can make or break your product's reputation and greatly affect your internet marketing efforts. Most of us trust online netizens to be arbiters of good taste, but if the data is any indication, we probably shouldn't trust them at all. According to the latest report by technology research firm Gartner, we can expect 10-15% of online reviews to be fake by 2014. Specifically, the sheer importance of social media will drive more and more companies to spend on paid social media reviews and artificial ratings to boost their online presence.

Word of mouth marketing is powerful as it is dangerous, and for most part, a lucrative marketing opportunity for those who know how to leverage it. Unfortunately, the pressure on marketers and social media managers alike to perform ("increase our twitter following by 200%!!) has caused some to cave in and take the easy route out. Gartner also claims that because of this push for online infamy, at least two Fortune 500 companies will face litigation over shady social media practices that go against the FTC (U.S. Federal Telecommunications Comission) in the next two years.

Is this really worth getting sued over? Hardly. Anyone who is willing to use such means to artificially boost their brand presence should be ready to face the repercussions on the company's bottom line, should anyone find out that it's fake. But let's indulge in the logic for a minute. The sad truth is that nearly everything in life is a numbers game. There's that feeling of superiority with having 10,000 followers more than Oprah. It can be difficult to get organic traffic to your page, so boosting those numbers should convince people your page has some legitimate backing to it. Similarly, having a few reviews on there makes your brand look more reputable...right?

Buying followers and planting reviews obviously creates trust issues between you and potential customers. Sometimes when a rating seems too good to be true a potential customer may be wary of your product and steer clear of it completely. Buying followers also seems like such an empty gesture, an exercise in futility. Think about it: you're buying people who will never be interested in your brand, have no inclination to listen to what you have to say and will never be engaged with your brand. "Gambina Zany" or "Dasklalameal'" will never retweet what you post or even care to begin with. Aside from artificially boosting your ego, purchasing likes/followers/views and planting reviews produces short term gains, but no actionable long-term results. They make you look insincere. Customers aren't entirely brainless and for most part can tell a planted review from a really jazzed one. This can compromise the sincerity of your brand. If you were lying about how awesome your product is...what else could you be lying about? Distrust = bad.

The interesting this is that the practice, at least on Twitter, is not illegal. Believe it or not, it doesn't appear to violate Twitter's Terms of Service. The ethics are questionable at best.

But it'll make you feel bad about yourself.

So do yourself a favour: do things the right way. Your brand will thank you.