TWAIN HARTE, CA: Reverb Communications, which works with game companies like Harmonix and Publisher X, was accused of promoting its clients' products with planted positive reviews in Apple's App Store. MobileCrunch obtained a memo allegedly written by the agency, outlining its strategy of using "interns who are focused on managing online message boards, writing influential game reviews, and keeping a gauge on the online communities."
Those in the PR industry, generally, denounce the practice.
"If it all bears out the way the piece ran, it's gaming the system and that's not the right way to be doing business," Chris Perry, EVP of digital strategy and operations for Weber Shandwick, told PRWeek. "Especially coming from a PR standpoint, the foundation of our business is based on trust and earning attention, versus gaming the system. It can get out of hand pretty quickly if you circumvent what are the accepted rules of engaging in social media."
Reverb did not return repeated calls or e-mails for comment to PRWeek, though its VP of business development, Doug Kennedy, responded to MobileCrunch in an e-mail in which he reportedly wrote: “Our interns and employees write their reviews based on their own game play experience, after having purchased the game by themselves, a practice not uncommon by anyone selling games or apps and hardly unethical.”
Andy Getsey, CEO of Atomic PR, says the issue boils down to trust, but he points out that this does seem to be a bit of a gray area, with two different camps.
"There is the 'No Astroturfing' camp, and then there is the other camp, which sees social media as an opportunity for brands to be their own publishers and skirt the more traditional tests," he said. "The whole idea of false reviews or non-disclosed relationships, it seems like there is a real trust issue there."
Paul Rand, president and CEO of Zócalo Group and president-elect of WOMMA, says that as companies are caught using these type of tactics, the industry and public is less likely to accept it.
"There seems to be a growing acknowledgement, if not acceptance, that posting fake reviews is not only wrong, but unethical," he told PRWeek. "The vast majority of the time, it is a rogue person who is doing it, not in line with company policy. Finding it as an accepted practice is incredibly rare and if they do, do it, it is profoundly hidden because they know it's something unethical."
MobileCrunch said it obtained the document from a prospective client.