Gartner predicts raft of fake online reviews by 2014

A recent spate of fake online reviews is just the beginning of a trend, according to Gartner(s it) research.

The book publishing world was roiled by the recent disclosure that self-published author John Locke bought Amazon reviews and author Stephen Leather used “sock puppet” accounts to build online buzz  for his books, as GigaOM’s Laura Owen reported earlier. This kerfuffle comes after months of reports about too-good-or-bad-to-be-true restaurant and other reviews on Yelp and other online review sites.

Well, get ready, because it’s just the beginning, according to Gartner, which expects that 10 to 15 percent of all online reviews will be paid for by companies within two years. As companies seek to cash in on consumer time spent on online review sites, Facebook(s fb) and Twitter, it’s not surprising that companies would try to steer consumer perception of their products.

According to a statement by Gartner senior research analyst Jenny Sussin:

With over half of the Internet’s population on social networks, 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 … Many marketers have turned to paying for positive reviews with cash, coupons and promotions including additional hits on YouTube videos in order to pique site visitors’ interests in the hope of increasing sales, customer loyalty and customer advocacy through social media ‘word of mouth’ campaigns.

Three years ago, the FTC found that companies paying for rave reviews without disclosing that the reviewer was compensated constitutes deceptive advertising and can be prosecuted. Gartner thinks that means companies will take a proactive role policing reviews that defame their products and services and pressure online sites to remove them. That will give rise to “reputation defense” companies specializing in such practices.