Every marketing/PR pro should know the value of user-generated content: Real-life reviews of products, services and professional organizations (like, say, PR firms) written by real-life customers! In certain industries like electronic publishing, Amazon reviews are more important than any commercial could ever be.

But this weekend The New York Times turned a harsh journalistic spotlight on a time-tested and somewhat accepted element of the promotional business: the fake review.

The sole purpose of the profiled business was to churn out positive reviews of books by self-published authors, who paid for the service on a per-review rate. While no contract demanded that the content be positive, glowing write-ups were understood to be par for the course. This is not a new practice: A data expert cited by the Times believes that as many as 1 in 3 online reviews–of any kind–are fake.

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