If you’ve ever read an online review that seemed too good to be true, new research suggests you may be right. According to Gartner, 10-15% of social media reviews will likely be fake by 2014, planted and paid for by companies seeking favorable online buzz.
If that’s the case, we can only hope that Gartner is also correct in its prediction that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will begin to crack down on the practice.
Of course, it goes without saying that such “astroturfing” represents the height of unethical online behavior but the fact is that it’s part of a larger trend that assigns undue influence to Facebook “likes,” Twitter follower counts and other vanity metrics. As Patricio Robles of Econsultancy recently wrote:
The metrics by which social success is often measured are not always so easy to grow organically, but they’re cheap to manipulate. And a marketer looking for a reason to indulge in that manipulation can easily justify questionable tactics: the more [insert social media metric here] I have, the more legitimate ones I’ll attract.
At RealSelf, the issue of fake reviews is no esoteric debate. Our community guidelines explicitly state that: False reviews, “helpful vote” abuse and other dishonest gaming practices erode trust in confidence and will not be tolerated.
And we’re not afraid to take action as we did in 2008, when we filed suit against Lifestyle Lift Holdings because we believed they were posting fake reviews.
And doctors should be every bit as leery of such practices. Simply put, in a profession where reputation is everything — and one in which social media is increasingly where reputations are made — the long-term risks of unethical behavior far outweigh any presumed benefit.
The only ones fooled by online love-buying are the marketers engaging in the tactic, says Robles. When it comes to earning an individual’s business and keeping it, trust, respect and satisfaction are far more important. And you can’t purchase those.
People respond to real reviews from real patients, not unrealistic raves
Consumers are rightfully skeptical of overly positive reviews even as they take negative ones in stride. Like any business owners, doctors should follow the advice of Gartner’s Jenny Sussin, who suggests companies “promote trust by openly embracing both positive and negative reviews and leveraging negative reviews as a way to encourage customers with positive experiences to share them. They should also respond to ratings and reviews in an official capacity to demonstrate willingness to engage in productive conversation with anyone.”