Research firm Gartner reports that corporate spending on positive social media ratings and reviews will continue to swell by 2014. The expected result is a 10 to 15 percent increase in paid-for ratings and reviews, making the web an increasingly hostile landscape for uninformed consumers.
It may be important to note that not all paid-for reviews are blatant lies -- there are some shades of gray. Often times, companies will tempt customers with coupons, samples or other forms of compensation to leave ratings and reviews (good or not) -- a practice which review sites like Yelp frown upon. The problem with this approach is companies are more likely to solicit customers who will leave good feedback than bad, while the incentives themselves tend to color feedback with a positive glow. However, Gartner doesn't explicitly mention how it weighs such reviews, if at all.
Although a higher concentration of dubious reviews seem imminent, Gartner believes increased consumer awareness of the issue will result in legal trouble for at least two Fortune 500 companies by 2014. The research firm doesn't mention which companies those may be, but in recent years, the FTC has shown initiative in spreading offline "truth in advertising" values to the online world as well.
It's difficult to overstate the power of online reviews. Last year, this Cornell study found that negative online reviews can dissuade shoppers from making a purchase 80 percent of the time.
Fortunately for consumers though, Cornell researchers have also been developing automated ways of parsing reviews to identify fakes. In fact, they claim to have done so with up to 90 percent accuracy. That's a remarkable feat when you consider that this study indicates people can only spot fake reviews about half the time.
Personally, consumer reviews do weigh heavily on some of my own purchasing decisions, particularly on items for which I don't have a clearly defined opinion. How about you?