In the age of the instant online review, the instant online recommendation, the instant product discussion, something funny has happened.

The phenomenon of astroturfing has exploded. Not the fake grass itself, but the practice of buying reviews and buying mass approval. Why? Tools like Fiverr and Amazon Mechanical Turk make approaching and building a paid crowd simple. Here’s an example:

Fiverr / Search results for 'amazon review'

Fiverr folks in the online marketing category will pimp your Amazon book. (professional marketers and PR folks face palm at the fact that there’s an online marketing and PR category at all on a $5/job website)

What this has done among the socially savvy is created a perverse counter effect, in which a product that only receives 5 star or top reviews is perceived as suspect, thanks to the prevalence and ease of gaming online reviews. Anecdotally, I know that I and others I’ve asked consider a four star review to be generally more credible – a few people who had bad experiences (which you’d expect of any product or service) and a larger number of people who had good experiences.

What a crazy world where something that could legitimately be stellar has to be perceived as less stellar in order to be credible, huh?

Luckily, the ground may be shifting in the favor of more honest marketing. Amazon already has the Amazon Verified Purchase review system, which gives additional weight to reviews by accounts that have actually purchased the item being reviewed. On February 1, 2013, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said:

“Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”

While seen by many as an endorsement of AuthorRank itself, Schmidt’s comments presage the larger trend that is happening now and will only get stronger: if you want authority or influence, you must have credibility, and that means an end to anonymity, a willful effort to end your obscurity.

Remember, the future is all about you. Build your platform now, because the low-value, low-cost tactics like the Fiverrs of the world are squarely in the gunsights of the big companies and search engines, and only those with platforms will thrive.


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