In today’s world, it’s rare to find companies without an online presence. And although many play by the rules, it’s not unusual to find businesses and individuals that take advantage of the anonymity the internet provides.

If you’ve recently started a new venture or own a long-established business which has an underwhelming online profile, it can be tempting to get involved in an activity such as sockpuppeting.

To clarify, a sockpuppet is a false identity which can be used to promote and manipulate an opinion on something. They’ve been created to praise, defend, criticise, attack or oppose a third party or organisation.

An example that springs to mind is the discovery of award-winning crime writer RJ Ellory’s positive reviews of his own work on Amazon using a pseudonym. During the same period, he also criticised the novels of his rivals. Once exposed, Ellory’s actions led to the book having a very low rating on Amazon, resulting in poor sales.

In fact, it’s been said that a third of online reviews are likely to be false. That’s a little scary when a recent survey has shown 92% of consumers now read online reviews before making a purchase.

Although the term sockpuppetry is relatively new, the practice is old. Other similar terms you may come across include:

Meat Puppeting – A person who publishes comments on blogs, wikis and other public venues about some phenomenon or product to generate public interest and buzz

Sybil Attack – Where multiple false identities are used to create influence within a peer-to-peer online network

It’s become easier in recent years to use such techniques to create the illusion of widespread opinion about products or social issues. Setting up an online profile or email address is now almost effortless.

To many consumers, this sort of behaviour suggests the business or product in question is not good enough to succeed without corrupt influences. If you have confidence in your business offering, wouldn’t you prefer to raise your businesses profile by building brand awareness using genuine methods?

Anyone concerned their competitors are using this method to bad-mouth their business should consider enforcing a customer authorisation tool on their review page. This gives control to the owner and allows them to confirm the customer is legitimate before any comments are posted.

If you’re confident your product is unique or valuable within your industry but struggle to obtain the exposure you’d like, you need to re-evaluate your marketing strategy. It might be time to consult with a professional who can work with you to tell your story and ultimately raise your business profile.

And as for the individuals who choose to go about promoting their businesses the wrong way, history has proven they will be unmasked eventually. The effect the exposure will have on their business will outweigh the perceived benefits of sockpuppetry, leaving the honest, hardworking companies and individuals to flourish.