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PR firm feels the Reverb and anger over astroturfing and fake reviews on Apple’s App Store

MobileCrunch has posted a thumper of a must-read PR tale exposing Reverb Communication’s documents that they post fake reviews in online arenas including Apple’s iPhone App Store. Full credit to MobileCrunch for doing a thumping journalism job on following the trails and pulling it all together. ┬áIt’s a must-read for an example of a great expose of astroturfing, which can come under black ops PR.

But hang on a minute, aren’t the PR firm just doing their job? Or is this a PR Crisis for a Tech/Digital PR company and a case of bad PR ethics?As can already be seen online there’s a lot of people going “the shame, the horror, how can this be?” but as Neville Hobson’s blog post points out “This must be one of the worst cases of astroturfing yet uncovered. Actually, more like fraud.” But are Reverb really doing anything but their job? The role of a public relations company is to positively promote their clients where possible and minimise negative publicity. Surely some positive reviews are just part of that role?

Some might see it that way, but I disagree. I don’t think it’s fraud, but it’s definitely fiddling. Your average person still trusts reviews, they are important influencers, especially if there’s a large number behind the review. And before someone says ‘perhaps they genuinely do like every single thing they’ve reviewed’ well in that case they should still declare an interest. At least then, the worst that can be said is ‘you would give it 5 stars, you work for them’ (just as I took some flack for putting in Whyte and Mackay’s whisky Master Blender Richard Paterson into the top 50 Scottish Tweeters) – but that’s a lot more open and honest at least. (Also, the MobileCrunch article takes this theory apart too.)

The one thing that absolutely shocks me about Reverb’s actions is this: how can any company be so bloody stupid in this day and age to be carrying out astroturfing/influencing and putting those details down in writing? It’s one thing to do it, but as any person with sense knows: if you are doing something that is negative/potentially controversial you sure as hell don’t put it down in writing.

Well then, perhaps they say nothing wrong with doing these reviews and that’s why they put it down in writing? In that case, I really think Reverb has no savvy because there’s no one in their company going ‘eh, hang on a minute guys. You know this will get frowned on right?’ because as the internet reaction has shown, everyone else seemed to know it was naughty to do it. And would you want to hire a PR company that thinks something 99% of the internet disapproves of is OK? It hardly shows an understanding of the medium if they did think it was OK.

I just can’t believe that they put the stuff in writing. That’s the kicker. Also, when astroturfing you really shouldn’t always give five stars. Four stars would have given them a bit more of a benfit of the doubt if caught. And I bet there’s a lot of PR operators out there going ‘there but for the grace of God…’

Of course the real question is: will this cost Reverb business or will it gain them some as people see what they do and the results it has had? Or is it just a storm in the PR world teacup and business as usual elsewhere?

(thanks to Scott Stratten/UnMarketing and Neville Hobson for highlighting the story)

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