Typing: reviews & comments

The real danger of astroturfing revealed

The subject of astroturfing has recently been receiving increased media attention. Online, the process has typically involved a company or individual paying users to leave positive reviews on their products, and was often associated with the marketing of information products like ebooks.

Paying people to surreptitiously promote products is not the only tactic used when it comes to this particular marketing strategy. Of course, another option is to attack competitors’ products through reviews and blog comments.

There has long been speculation that astroturfing is not exclusive to small-time operators. And now Samsung has been caught by Taiwan’s Fair Trade Commission (FTC), with the South Korean company receiving a fine for its troubles.

Samsung has been accused of both flooding sites with positive comments in order to drown out any unfavourable remarks, and running a negative campaign targeting HTC and Apple.

The defence employed by Samsung was simple: this was all the fault of a couple of rogue marketing companies.

Game Politics reports that this explanation was not accepted by the FTC, who noted that the local companies in question were providing Samsung with both weekly and monthly reports on their activities.

The fine handed out amounted to only NT$10 m (€250,000/£210,000). This is considerably short of the maximum NT$25 m (€620,000/£530,000) fine that could have been imposed.

In many respects, Samsung has been lucky. The relatively small fine means there will be no attention-grabbing headlines, with coverage mostly confined to specialist tech blogs.

It would perhaps be unfair to overly focus on Samsung, though. Many tech journalists believe that astroturfing is a widespread practice, but if campaigns have been well organised, it can be difficult to prove.

As a marketing strategy, however, astroturfing is extremely risky. The big danger for Samsung, and others, is not potential fines imposed by regulators, but damage to reputations.

Quite understandably, the general view amongst consumers is that astroturfing is a highly unethical practice. So rather than being seen as a cool, innovative company, anyone caught risks becoming known as a purveyor of dirty tricks.

With relatively little to chose between specs and features in the very competitive mobile market, reputations become all the more important. It is not difficult to envisage a brand that has taken years to establish being significantly damaged overnight, if caught up in an astroturfing scandal.

[via Game Politics]

Image credit: JonathanCohen