astroturfing: abusing social media

February 25, 2009 marlafederman

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Consumers tend to trust reviews and recommendations found in social media over traditional advertising. In a blog post about who consumers trust in social media,  Jeremiah Owyang states that 60% of people trust consumer product ratings and reviews more than they would  trust corporate blogs. I think that  people are more likely to trust each other than the media for several reasons. People have a hard time trusting advertisements because they know that advertisements are meant to persuade, and not necessarily inform people about a given product or service. People also know that companies want consumers to buy their products so they will say whatever it takes for people to purchase their goods. The fact that many people are aware that companies are trying to sell their products to them makes people more apt to get their information from fellow consumers who are just like them and whose opinions they trust.

 It seems that many companies have caught onto the idea of blogs and social media being very influential in the decisions of consumers. Businesses now understand that their messages are more likely to be heard if people hear the messages from a friend or consumer.   

Some companies had a great idea (or so they thought) on how they could reach their audiences. Companies would pay consumers to write and rave about  their products in order to create buzz about products, which businesses hoped would lead to more revenue. This is called astroturfing. Astroturfing is a bad marketing practice of companies who organize fake grassroots enthusiasm for various products and services. 

Just last month, a Belkin employee wrote a blog post offering $0.65 to anyone who was willing to write positive Belkin reviews on Amazon.com. A couple people took him up on his offer and started raving about products they hadn’t even used on Amazon.com. A blogger exposed the scam and of course the media got a hold of the story and the whole thing blew up. Tisk tisk Belkin. Honestly though, the Belkin employee should have known that if he was going to blog about his plan to astroturf that he was bound to get caught. 

Astroturfing not only turns out bad for the company using it, but now because businesses are using social media outlets for astroturfing, the credibility of social media could be at stake. The one thing that social media has that many other media outlets lack is transparency. People trust reviews and recommendations they read online because they assume the reviews were written by peers. What happens when people start to lose faith in the information in social media? Then where will they turn ? People involved in social media for the most part work hard to build a positive reputation and gain credibility. When these businesses come in with their lack of transparency, it makes people skeptical of what to believe on the web. 

 

Image from Flickr  by Fahara

 

 

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