Sock puppet marketing is becoming commonplace in some segments off the Internet. It is being used as a fraudulent method for promoting products and services and is an easy way to lose credibility when a site owner gets caught.
There are several variations, but sock puppet marketing is essentially a situation where someone is selling a product or service and someone else under the guise of being a satisfied customer praising the offering are actually one and the same person. It is the same person playing two roles, as if he or she was play-acting using sock puppets.
This game being played by some unscrupulous marketers is commonly seen in phony testimonials and fictitious product endorsements. We see it most often with products and services being offered through the numerous forums on the web. When you see something being offered that seems too good to be true and the offer is immediately followed by one or more posts praising the offering by users who have only placed one or two posts thus far with that forum, the chances are good that sock puppet marketing is in play and the offering should be ignored.
Matt Cutts, one of Google’s Quality Engineers, made a video addressing this issue. He also refers to it as “astro turfing” where fake personalities are created to support something someone is saying.
You can see what appears to be sock puppet marketing, or at least what appear to be fake product reviews, on some major web sites such as Amazon.com. It is not uncommon to find a book or other product that will not be available for several months that already has accumulated several 5-star reviews from very happy users. While the author of a book may not be personally setting up the positive reviews, it may be the work of friends or associates. Amazon is taking steps to clean this up by adding the notation “Amazon Verified Purchase” to a review whenever a reviewer has purchased the product they are reviewing through Amazon.
We have seen several sock puppet marketing web sites that focus on “independent reviews” of a particular product or product line. The telltale identifier is when all of the reviews about a particular brand are positive, and all reviews for competing brands are negative. That just does not happen in real life, but it is alive and thriving with sock puppet marketing.