Search optimization (including suppression) are a $2 billion/year business according to eMarketer. This can include posting content and driving traffic to hide actual negative sentiment developed by customers or by creating positive content about your product under the guise of being an excited customer. Both large and small companies annually spend fortunes on making sure the content that shows when searching for their brand or product is something they control. Groundswell discusses how in the information age the brand truly belongs to the people, however this seems to be a counterpoint that despite the transformative nature of the internet to connect individual with myriad product experiences, the brand is still controlled in the same ways that it always was. At least for companies with a modest budget and level of sophistication, the message that we receive is the same one that we got when watching commercials pushing the company’s product message.
In many ways, this hijacking of what many understand to be “real” information about the product from other non-affiliated parties is even more insidious; the information poses as being peer content based on patterns while actually being highly manipulated data controlled by marketing teams to show only favorable content for their customer or unfavorable content about competitors. As the NPR story linked below mentions, this can be seen as a suppression of free speech, or at least a suppression of individual free speech in favor of those with the resources and savvy to silence the dissenting opinions about their products.
Link to NPR story: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130646918
Ethical dilemmas >