By 2014, as much as 10 to 15 percent of service and company reviews on social media sites could be paid for by the company, according to a report from Gartner Inc.

The report also predicted that over the next two years, the increase in “fake” social media reviews could result in at least two Fortune 500 brands dealing with litigation from the U.S.Federal Trade Commission.

The increase in fake reviews is likely a result of companies’ effort to build their online presence through “likes” on social media pages, hits on videos and positive reviews.

“Many marketers have turned to paying for positive reviews with cash, coupons and promotions, including additional hits on YouTube videos in order to pique site visitors’ interests in the hope of increasing sales, customer loyalty and customer advocacy through social media ‘word-of-mouth’ campaigns,” said Jenny Sussin, senior research analyst at Gartner.

Organizations that pay for fake positive reviews can and have faced fines and public criticism, according to the report. In 2009, the FTC ruled that paying for positive reviews without divulging that the reviewer was compensated is comparable to deceptive advertising and would be prosecuted in the same way.

The emerging sector of reputation defence companies could help businesses avoid litigation, Gartner said. Reputation managers would comb through reviews, identify the fake reviews and ask that they be removed.

“Organizations engaging in social media can help to promote trust by openly embracing both positive and negative reviews and leveraging negative reviews as a way to encourage customers with positive product or service experiences to share them on review sites as well,” Sussin said.



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