Are you ever tempted to create a bogus blog, and pretend to be one of your own happy customers? Attracted by the chance to write some glowing online reviews of your own business? How about asking your staff or marketing agency to create phony evaluations of your products or services?
Big changes in the law covering business blogging, social media and viral marketing techniques means businesses need to think twice before pretending to be the “voice of the people.”
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations bans 31 unfair commercial practices designed to protect consumers from misleading, aggressive or unfair practices.
In particular, the legislation outlaws any marketing that is in fact a disguised commercial message.
In the online marketing world, banned activities for businesses include:
- writing fake reviews on sites like TripAdvisor or Google Maps
- creating fake blogs
- asking questions on Q&A sites, and then answering the question yourself
- editing Wikipedia entries under a false identity
- imitating a consumer
- falsely advertising on social media sites
The use of false Internet marketing techniques has spawned a whole new vocabulary:
Flogs or “fake blogs” posing as a consumer, but created by professionals with the aim of selling products. One of the best known phony flogs is “All I Want for Christmas is a PSP” – created by a marketing agency called on behalf of Sony; Walmart has done a fake blog and been caught and shamed, and so have L’Oreal and lots more.
Astroturfing or fake grassroots campaigns, such as those used during political campaigns.
The penalty if you break the law? A little visit from Trading Standards, followed by fines up to £5,000, and up to two years in prison for individual directors or senior managers who are guilty of “consenting, conniving or negligently” breaking the rules.