Have Consumers Lost Their Trust in Social Media?
Do you know what astroturfing means? I became familiar with the phenomenon when I started writing my thesis about astroturfing over a year ago. I read several articles about a case where 19 companies were posting fake online reviews on social media sites of a yogurt shop that didn’t actually even exist. New York authorities ordered these companies to pay a total of $350,000 in penalties, since they were discovered astroturfing.
There are many ways to define astroturfing but here’s one way to put it: astroturfing is a practice where organizations are paying common people to talk up their products and services online. Astroturfing is practiced all over the online environment but the most common place for astroturfing activities is nowadays review websites. People read product and service reviews with increasing enthusiasm. People also rely on these reviews and base their buying decision on them. Or do they no longer?
It seems that consumers have also noticed the practices of astroturf organizations, since the latest research shows that consumers are losing their trust towards the information they find online. No wonder, since Gartner predicted a couple of years ago that that at least one in ten online social media reviews would be fake by 2014. Astroturfing has created uncertainty among people, and people are finding it difficult to distinguish when the information found online is real and when fake. Consumers are suffering from lack of trust.
Different kinds of methods have been developed to identify astroturfing practices. However, there is no single continuous method that would resolve the growing problem of astroturfing.
Astroturfing poses a threat to the credibility and reliability of organizations. It also concerns business ethics and it is considered as deceptive, even illegal. Yet, certain organizations are still doing it.
I argue that consumer trust towards social media can be rebuilt, and it’s a challenge that all organizations should accept. Here’s my advice: acknowledge the concerning nature of astroturfing but stay far away from it – and show it by being transparent and responsible. One thing organizations can also do: make sure that your products and services speak for themselves. Then you don’t have to even consider paying anyone to talk about them with false identities.
By Johanna Haikarainen
Marketing & Communications