What’s more, consumers now expect to engage directly with brands, facilitated by the rapid rise of social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

Marketers and advertisers have been forced to adapt and rightly have been caught up in the buzz around Facebook “likes” (and soon to be “wants”), as a way of attempting to engage with consumers, drive brand awareness and ultimately, secure high-quality referrals.   

However, both the issues and opportunities here are much deeper than achieving millions of “likes” or “fans.” Rather, marketers must delve deeper than driving superficial gauges of engagement.  

They must provide fresh and interesting user generated content to consumers in order to help them make better choices and get them talking to each other about the brand or product.  Today, the goal for marketers must be about turning consumers into loyal customers by building a trusted and engaging relationship with them.

Unfortunately, many marketers are still afraid of the open forum brought about by user generated content and social media, and some have tried to hijack the conversation by deploying fake “likes” and fake positive reviews, or “cherry picking” by removing negative reviews to make their brands look good. 

It seems simple, easy and effective, but whilst cutting corners may seem like a quick-fix solution, marketers must ask themselves, at what cost?  Ultimately, those undertaking this behavior are lying to consumers and their customers.

Trust is the currency of commerce, period

Maintaining trust must become the number one aim for companies and brands when it comes to user-generated content. False or manipulated “user” content has no place in today’s transparent relationship between consumer and brand.

The integrity of social content requires that the processes and systems by which social content is solicited, moderated, published and syndicated, must be maintained or even improved at all cost.

Whatever method deployed, as an industry, we need to raise the bar. The entire industry carries the baggage of bad practices, and if we tarnish the trust quality of ratings and reviews in the same way the industry has eroded consumer trust with interruptive online ad models, we all lose.

Trust as the way forward

The real opportunity for the industry is how to drive trusted and transparent relationships with customers and consumers more broadly.

Our own research earlier this year shows that 89% of Europeans read reviews before some or all purchases. Similarly, a survey from Channel Advisor back in 2010 highlighted that 83% of all holiday shoppers are influenced by customer reviews, so this is not necessarily a new phenomenon, but it is a growing one.

Indeed, this trend is being compounded by mobile, where consumers are just a click away from customer opinion, wherever they are, including in brick-and-mortar retail locations.

In a recent report, analyst firm, Gartner, predicted that by 2014, 15% of all user generated content will be fake. 

If this figure comes to fruition, then the integrity and value of user-generated content will be damaged, perhaps irreparably. The antidote to this situation is to place a much-needed importance on trust, transparency and verification in reviews.

Let’s make sure that we all take responsibility and put in place every measure possible for nurturing trust between buyer and seller. 

If you disagree with what I’m saying, keep your ratings and stars on this article to an absolute minimum…

Honesty will always get us ahead.