What is Astroturfing in business?

Kayumboyev Dilmurod

Kayumboyev Dilmurod

Digital Marketer, Twitter @Davidtokyoo

In recent years, there have been numerous practices of astroturfing made by popular companies in the online and offline world for different purposes, and problems associated with astroturfing are getting worse. What is astroturfing? and why do companies use this method?  According to the definition made by Guardian, “ Astroturfing is the attempt to create an impression of widespread grassroots support for a policy, individual, or product, where little such support exists. Multiple online identities and fake pressure groups are used to mislead the public into believing that the position of the astroturfer is the commonly held view”(Adam Beinkov 2012). It is more about using grassroots movements created and funded by companies and organizations to support their business. The main goal of astroturfing is to promote companies’ interests and increase their products and services’ image. They try to have more buzzes on their offerings that look organic but in reality, it is artificial. Most practices of astroturfing occur on the online forums and feedback parts of blogs and newspaper web pages in politics, businesses, and so on. As we know, there are three main things that can affect people’s purchasing decisions. For example, some consumers buy only particular brands’ products or services based on their previous beliefs, experiences about these brands or their buying decisions can be changed by the marketing activities of the company. The third and the most effective one is the word of mouth when we hear about a specific brand’s product from our friends and people around us and online reviews written by past users. It is a social psychological prospect, we create belief on a particular subject by influences of others’s belief. That is why first most people explore the review section of a product before buying something online or listen to others’ opinions on it. As a result, poor and positive reviews play a crucial role in promoting a company’s goods and services. Until now, many famous companies such as Mcdonald, Walmart have tried astroturfing marketing activities to increase the credibility and authenticity of their products by paying to people who show their belief for business by various communication channels. For example, In 2013 The New York Attorney General declared that 19 companies had had an agreement on stopping from writing fake online reviews for the company and had to pay more than 350000$ as a penalty (Osborne Clarke 2013). Moreover, digital astroturfing can take place in the political fields during election periods. In this situation, political candidates spread false grassroots actions on social media to earn others’ trust and grow their reputation. Here we can see one of the companies which got involved in astroturfing. It is South Korean electronic device producer Samsung. Samsung got caught in hiring a larger number of people being sponsored to write positive reviews on their mobile phone devices along with giving negative reviews on their competitor HTC phones in 2013 in Taiwan. It was found out after Taiwan’s Fair Trade Commission( FTC) investigation and determined they did astroturfing by a third-party marketing company. Taiwan’s FTC found it a violation of Fair Trade rules and fined Samsung mobile phone company $340000 and also gave a penalty of $100000 to two local marketing companies for being part of this astroturfing campaign. After being found out about their astroturfing activities, Samsung made a post on Facebook that they regretted such action. HTC smartphone company was the victim of this astroturfing internet campaign and saw a decline in sales of their products. According to their report, the Global smartphone market share dropped from 10.3% in 2011 to just 2.6% in 2013.

I think it was one of the ruining activities for Samsung company reputation and its impact can be long-lasting. It is such an embarrassing and sad case that people agree on writing fake positive reviews and promoting a particular company’s product even though they do not like or recommend it. We are consumers and should be together to fight against such astroturfing activities because one day we will be victims of this action.

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