What exactly is a “grassroots” or “astroturfing” review? Well, a grassroots review would be considered to be the ethical and authentic review of a product or company’s service that is written based on facts and a factual experience.
Grassroots reviews are considered to be real reviews made from real people with no material connection to a company or brand. These reviewers are giving a review based on their actual experiences.
An “astroturfing” review would be considered to be a review written for a product or company’s service that is based on fiction and false accounts. Astroturfing reviews (fake on-line reviews) are completely misleading to consumers due to the fact that the review is based on false information.
Astroturfing reviews are either made by completely fake reviewers and are based on made-up experiences. Or they are made by reviewers that may be giving a genuine review but they also share a material connection with the company or brand and have not disclosed this connection.
Why is astroturfing against the law?
The FTC’s 2009 Endorsement & Testimonial Guidelines call for all endorsements and testimonials about a company to be truthful and authentic. If there is any connection between the endorser and the brand or company, this information needs to be disclosed.
Violators of these guidelines face legal action and recourse such as hefty fines and a tarnished reputation for their company or brand. Even with the government shutdown right now, a company can still face prosecution for the posting of astroturfing (fake) on-line reviews.
New York State Takes Legal Action against Astroturfing
As of September 23, 2013, it was announced by New York’s Attorney General that during “Operation Clean Turf,” fines of over $350,000 have been imposed upon companies whom violated the FTC’s 2009 Endorsement & Testimonial Guidelines by using fake on-line reviews.
These fines came after a year-long undercover investigation. A total of 19 companies have been accused of engaging in illegal and deceptive business practices and false advertising due to the use of fake reviews.
How can astroturfing damage your brand or service?
Not only are you faced with legal prosecution and hefty fines due to astroturfing, but your brand or company image more importantly face a damaged reputation. Consumers that once trusted your company or service may no longer feel that they can trust your brand or company. This could lead to the downfall of your business.
Ethical Practices Versus Unethical Practices will Avoid Problems Later
The best and honestly, the easiest way to avoid legal problems later, as well as a tarnished image to your brand and company is to simply not use any fake reviews. Be aware of the laws in the state that you reside in regards to state regulations which enforce the FTC’s standards.
And always make sure to disclose any material connection between yourself and any reviewer. A material connection may be something as simple as an offer of a product, service or sweepstakes entry in exchange for a tweet on Twitter later.
If you have a large company with many employees and affiliates, then you’ll also want to ensure that all employees know that the practice of astroturfing will not be tolerated. And may even be grounds for immediate dismissal. If your company does not already have an astroturfing policy, now may be the time to put one in place for the protection of your company or brand.