Fliking for the wrong reasons

by Stuart Fuller



This week I did something I've never done before.  Being a man of the world I've been to many places, done many things but when I've shuffled off this mortal coil, what would I have in terms of a legacy.  Well, hopefully in the next few weeks I will have that ticked off my bucket list.  I created a word, which subject to final approval, will be entered into the Oxford English Dictionary 2016 edition.

As with most words "created" in the modern world, its birth has come out of a trend, in this case a practice that has already landed a host of people in trouble, and misled thousands more.  Today, we are more likely to believe what a random stranger says online about a company, product or service than we are a colleague, friend or even a family member.  The nature of our relationships have changed irrecoverably due to the digital environment.  But do we put too much trust in those online reviews and recommendations? In his 2014 study on the power of Social Media, Erik Qualmann stated that 93% of online shoppers choices are influenced by Social Media and 90% trust peer recommendations over traditional adverts.

So what happens if the information we use to make our spending decisions is false? We've grown up with a set of beliefs (in most instances) instilled in us by our parents, siblings and school teachers that make us wary of a bargain.  "If it's too good to be true, it probably is" isn't a new consumer warning, yet we seem to conveniently forget that when we go online.  But the fraudsters and cyber criminals haven't and use fake social media with impunity to grab our attention, and worse still, is that our natural caution goes out the window.

We seem to think because a hotel or a restaurant has glowing 5-star reviews then it is a world-beater, or if a brand has a Facebook page with thousands of likes then there are no problems.  Whilst legitimate brands will use social media or peer review sites such as Tripadvisor, so too do the cyber criminals. They use exactly the same tactics as genuine brand marketeers, building authentic looking websites, creating a social media presence and trying to divert real traffic to their websites.

The key to the success of their operations is believability.  Creating a false online presence that gives the impression of credibility has never been easier.  A simple search on any search engine throws up plenty of results for websites that can provide Facebook Likes, Twitter and Instagram Followers, LinkedIn Connections and TripAdvisor positive reviews.  For less than $100 you can create an impressive Social Media footprint, one which most consumers would be hard-pressed to see through.

Fliking (Fl-ike-ing) is my word for this practice.  Meaning to solicit or buy social media likes, tweets or positive reviews....or simply fraud.  Paying someone to say something that could be untrue can be classed as misleading, false advertising or fraudulent.  The practice has hit the headlines in recent week with Amazon taking legal action against over a thousand individuals who had been advertising their services to provide fake five-star reviews on the website Fiverr.com, after an article published by The Sunday Times on how easy it was for them to get a book up to the top of one of Amazon's best seller lists through buying fake reviews.  TripAdvisor has also attempted to take action against organisations who either created positive reviews for themselves or negative ones for competing businesses.

Whilst some of the activity may be nothing more than vanity, creating a false world of positivity, to the consumer there is no clear definition between what's good and what's bad.  And that's one major reason why any company or individual should not resort to buying Social Media likes or followers.  Brand holders need to monitor the Internet to ensure miscreants aren't trying to create copy-cat Social Media identities and then using the goodwill and their reputation to mislead consumers.  Even if a brand has no knowledge of what cyber criminals are up to, consumers are 78% more likely to shun a brand if they've been duped. For any organisation, protecting website traffic, brand reputation, revenues and ultimately customer's welfare are the core objectives of moving their business online.  Fliking is the latest risk to them and these strategies.  Staying one step ahead of the Flikers is the latest battle in the war against cybercrime.