Online buzz may take a wayward turn in the near future.
By 2014, between 10% and 15% of all ratings and reviews on social networking sites will be fakes, according to a forecast from IT research and consulting firm Gartner.
Today, 1% to 4% of social media "interactions"--a catchall term that can include online reviews, Facebook likes, tweets and other similar content--are actually paid for by companies, Gartner vice president Ed Thompson told TechCrunch. Companies like Izea, a provider of sponsored blog posts and tweets, promote the idea of paid interactions as a way to boost sales and brand visibility, TechCrunch notes.
"Organizations are scrambling for new ways to build bigger follower bases, generate more hits on videos, garner more positive reviews than their competitors, and solicit 'likes' on their Facebook pages," Gartner analyst Jenny Sussin said in the Gartner announcement.
But don't be tempted to game the system yourself: With the increase in fake reviews, Gartner predicts, will come a greater backlash, prompting both media attention and in Federal Trade Commision lawsuits.
The FTC has a track record of charging companies for false and misleading reviews. In 2011, the agency alleged that Legacy Learning Systems amassed $5 million in sales after paying for positive online reviews of the company's guitar-lesson DVDs. Legacy paid a $250,000 fine.
Gartner argues that consumer-facing companies will need to “weigh the longer-term risks of being caught and the ... damage to reputation and balance them against the short-term potential rewards of increased business."