Credible Brands in an Un-Credible World

Gartner analysts released a study last week that found that between 10 and 15 percent of online reviews will be fake by the year 2014. That’s right. The social currency people use every day on Amazon, Yelp, Rotten Tomatoes, IGN and elsewhere to make or break purchasing decisions are only going to get more and more unreliable as fake reviews proliferate.

The Quest for Meaningless Metrics

This could be avoided, but it’ll be on marketers to change their mindsets.

Too many brands are too obsessed with how they stack up to their competitors. This has led to a market of fake Facebook Page likes and Twitter followers. Now, businesses are offering a few dollars for a fake review from people who have never experienced the business and without appropriate disclosure.

There’s a segment of marketers who don’t care about value. They just want cosmetic numbers to reflect success or hide a lack of it.

They’re driven by meaningless metrics. They want more likes, followers and positive reviews online, even if it means they aren’t legitimate. The result is analysts predicting that fake social media ratings and reviews will result in “at least two Fortune 500 brands facing litigation from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the next two years.”

This is Our Fault

Marketers have proven that they aren’t necessarily ready for transparent third-party reviews, which led the FTC to create a guide for online endorsements and testimonials in advertising, which required bloggers and any online influencers to disclose anything they received in exchange for a review.

As a group, we’re tempted by the fact that with a few thousand dollars, we can turn what is a rather mediocre social media effort into what appears to be an astounding success by paying for fake reviews, likes or Twitter followers. It’s lazy marketing.

The risk of giving into that temptation is too great for the industry. Third-party reviews are one of the most credible forms of advertising at our disposal. Traditional advertising has lost a lot of credibility in the minds of consumers. We can’t afford to let this happen to online reviews as well.

Trusted Brands Will Win

The good news is that brands building legitimate consumer trust will stand out and win out.  

Brands that are able to encourage others to transparently share brand content and points of difference without being paid will stand out in a world of fake reviews. Unbiased brand mentions carry a lot of weight and can truly sway a consumer’s opinion one way or another.

Give people the reasons and the means to talk about and share a brand. It’s often not an easy task, but if it was, marketers wouldn’t see the need to buy fake credibility. The brands that put in the work will benefit from it.

The more brands adopt this mindset, the less likely Gartner’s prediction will come true. Brands can’t buy credibility. It has to be earned. That credibility comes from authentic third-party endorsements, not fake ones.