Marketing is tough these days
If your business has an online presence, (and it’s the 21st century, so surely you do), you probably spend a lot of time, energy, and resources making sure that you look good on the internet. You want to maximize your social media reach, and get as many positive customer reviews online as you can. This can be a time-consuming process, as you wait patiently for customers to review you and as you craft online marketing campaigns to get more visitors to your site and more fans from social media sites.
But what if you could buy an online reputation that would generate new customers for your business, all for less than $100?
That’s what Fusion’s Kashmir Hill set out to do. As an experiment, she created a phony business, Freakin’ Awesome Karaoke Express (F.A.K.E.), and for less than a c-note, was able to purchase 200 Facebook fans, 19,000 Twitter followers, and several five-star reviews on Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Yelp. She was also able to pay popular Twitter users to tweet about the business to their followers.
Even after revealing the hoax, his phone was ringing
Says Hill: “When I identified myself as a journalist and sent messages to people offering to write reviews, they said ‘We only do real reviews. We really try the products…’ But when I approached them undercover with money hand, it was a different matter.”
Even after Hill published an article revealing the Hoax, F.A.K.E. continued to receive phone calls with real inquiries from potential customers. Apparently neither Twitter nor Facebook have penalized F.A.K.E. or removed its pages or accounts, even though it was revealed as a sham. F.A.K.E. still has 19,000 Twitter followers (which cost Hill a mere 21 dollars), and many of the reviews are still online.
Yelp took note, but no one else
Yelp was the only site that seemed suspicious of F.A.K.E., flagging its reviews as “not recommended.” However, this did not seem to damage F.A.K.E.’s ersatz reputation, as Hill continued to receive “numerous real phone calls and voicemails” from potential customers. And even though Hill, not having a genuine karaoke service to offer, never returned any of these calls, none of those potential customers left a negative review online.
For all of the businesses working hard to establish legitimate online reputations, what does it mean that a fake reputation could be purchased so easily and cheaply?