Reputation Management Companies BUSTED for ILLEGAL “Astroturfing”!

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( — September 24, 2013) Phoenix, AZ— 


Over the last few years, some companies who have received negative reviews have tried using such illicit tactics as getting fake reviews posted by friends, family, and employees to offset the damage.


However, a new practice has evolved called “Astroturfing”, which is basically the online version of false advertising. Astroturfing can be defined as using fake, contrived reviews for the purposes of boosting your online reputation.


New York Atty. Gen. Eric T Schneiderman initiated a sting operation called “Operation Clean Turf”, which was a year-long undercover operation to expose the reputation management industry.


The sting began when one of the operatives posed as proprietor of a local yogurt shop in Brooklyn, NY. The operative called various “leading” SEO companies in New York to ask for help in negating the effects of negative reviews on popular online review sites. As the conversations progressed, reps from some of these companies offered to create false reviews for their yogurt shop and then post them on sites such as Google Local, Yelp, and others.


As the investigation unfolded, it became apparent that some of the SEO companies were using advanced IP spoofing strategies in an effort to conceal their identity. In addition, it was discovered that these companies had created hundreds of fake online review profiles to post their illicit reviews.


We asked a local search engine marketing expert, Eric Christopher, owner of Local Business Rockstar, for his opinion on the story and how it will affect the reputation management industry, “It’s sad really. I wonder if these businesses were persuaded or duped into believing that creating and posting fake reviews online wouldn’t cause any real harm. It’s just not worth the risk! There are many legitimate solutions and strategies to creating a positive online marketing presence using customer reviews.”


“In fact, we offer our own custom reputation marketing solution. We actually use a system to help customers of the business to submit their own reviews through a patent-pending technology. We’ve heard of these bad practices occurring in the industry & are happy that this problem of Astroturfing is being exposed.”


Eric Christopher, also known as “E-Rock”, offers these suggestions to consumers to combat Astroturfing:


Reputation Mgmt Tip 1:

Look at all the reviews inside of the review site. If there are a large number of reviews, & they all have five stars, this is probably suspect. Everyone knows that you can’t please customers 100% of the time, so it looks strange when there isn’t any reviews with four stars or less.


Reputation Mgmt Tip 2:

Compare the number of reviews to all the listings on the page that you’re looking at in a Google search result. If a company has 50% more reviews than any other competitor in their market, this could be a sign that the company may be practicing bad reputation marketing tactics. 


Reputation Mgmt Tip 3:

Call the business, and ask if they have any current contests or promotions. Many times in an effort to get reviews from their customers, businesses will offer prizes & bribes for a positive review. These are expressly prohibited from major online review sites, & should be avoided at all costs for business owner & consumers.


Many people question the value of online reputation management. However, multiple studies have conclusively proven that online reviews have an incredible impact on a company’s bottom line.


One survey estimates that as much as 90% of consumers are influenced by online reviews when buying online. In addition, a 2011 study performed by Harvard Business School determined that a one star increase in its aggregate review rating on Yelp equated to as much as a 9% increase in total revenues for a restaurant. Another study performed by Cornell, found that a one-star improvement in a hotel’s online reputation on popular sites like TripAdvisor and Travelocity resulted in 11% increase in room rates on average.


So why is New York Atty. Gen. Schneiderman cracking down on Astroturfing? It’s an effort to combat these duplicitous reputation management tactics that fool people into believing their business is actually performing better than it is. According to Gartner, it is estimated that by the year 2014, as much as 15% of social media reviews will be fake.


As far as these 19 companies are concerned, they’ve all agreed to pay retribution for as little as $2500 to nearly $100,000 apiece. Many people in the reputation management industry are shocked that a business could be fined as much as $100,000 for participating in Astroturfing.


However, if you take the time to read the original press release, you’ll discover that one company posted more than 1500 fake reviews online.


Many operatives participated in “Operation Clean Turf”, including Investigator Vanessa Ip, from the Internet Bureau. It’s interesting that the companies caught Astroturfing were spoofing their IP & were busted by Investigator “Ip”.


The reputation management industry should now be aware that Astroturfing is illegal & won’t be tolerated. Reputation management companies should be providing strategies & methods that are legitimate, authentic, & provide a real picture of the quality of services that their clients provide.


To Contact Eric “E-Rock” Christopher about their reputation management services: