PR, Integrity and Yelp

I just installed the mobile app of Yelp on my new Blackberry Tour. What’s great about Yelp is the quantity of its crowd-sourced reviews, which, theoretically, allows for much greater accuracy about the subjects being scrutinizing. There’s nothing like discovering a fab local restaurant based on the endorsement of hundreds of peers.

But what if those recommendations actually emanated from the restaurant itself, or by extension, the PR firm repping it? We’ve all heard stories of companies gaming Amazon’s product reviews. And who can forget the once again beleaguered CEO of Whole Foods’ pseudonymous attempts to pump his company’s stock on Yahoo message boards. What a slime.

And then there are companies that, as a matter of course, mine the social media space to identify the biggest “influencers” in their product or service category, for the purposes of enlisting them to evangelize on behalf of the companies’ products or services. Isn’t the FTC looking into this?

My friend Max Kalehoff, one of the more insightful new/social media executives, and a proud Dad to boot, just joined SONY’s DigiDads Project in which the company will allow him to tool with its toys, not unlike the way countless companies have long courted the more established Mommy bloggers. I’m counting on Max to tell it like it really is, but will the other DigiDads have the same ethical underpinnings?

Over the weekend, one of the more digitally plugged-in PR firms got caught gaming certain application reviews in the iPhone Store. Outed in a MobileCrunch piece titled “Cheating the App Store: PR firm has interns post positive reviews,” Reverb Communications has a crisis of confidence on its hands. TechCrunch’s mobile sister wrote:

“Yeah, that 5-star iTunes app review you saw for the once top-5 paid app Enigmo? It might not be written by a real user, but rather by Pangea Software’s PR firm. Reverb isn’t the first to try and game the user review process, but they are definitely one of the most blatant cases.”

After my post from Thursday, in which I linked to a Politico piece on one Beltway PR firm’s astroturfing efforts to derail healthcare reform, I received a nice note from PRSA’s Joe DeRupo who reiterated how…

“…this practice violates principles set out in the PRSA Code of Ethics…”

Maybe we should all have on our desktops this new widget to expose astroturfing? (See above image.)

Here’s Brian Solis’s take.