What do content marketers and skincare addicts have in common? They’re both up in arms over Sunday Riley’s fake review scandal.

Honesty is a key tenet of content marketing, whether you’re talking about SEO, video viewership stats, or user reviews. Unfortunately, it seems that cult skincare brand Sunday Riley didn’t get the memo about that last one. Last month, an anonymous former employee took to the r/skincareaddiction subreddit with a scathing accusation and the proof to back it up:

The email instructs employees to leave at least three reviews of Sunday Riley’s acne treatment mask Saturn and acne fighting kit Space Race, including step-by-step instructions for scrambling their IP addresses and making their reviews seem more “relatable” by detailing their own, often fake, struggles with acne.

After the revealing post shot to the top of the Reddit page, it made its way over to beauty insider Instagram page Estee Laundry. As the Estee Laundry post gained more traction, the Sunday Riley official brand account left a comment on the Instagram photo admitting to, and apologizing for, faking reviews in the past.

It’s yet to be determined whether or not Sunday Riley’s apology will be enough to regain consumers’ trust, but one thing is for sure: a temporary spike in sales or consumer interest isn’t worth the risk of creating fake or misleading content. Here’s why.

When It Comes to Content, Honesty is the Best Policy

In faking its reviews, Sunday Riley failed to understand the purpose and spirit of content marketing. Compelling content is all about the long game — it drives search engine rankings and organic traffic, but more importantly, it cultivates rapport with the consumer. The more a potential customer thinks of your company as a trustworthy source of information, the more likely they are to trust you with their business.

Customers are also far more likely to trust you with their business if others have good things to say about you. Studies show that reviews are one of the single most convincing marketing tools in driving conversions and sales. That’s because customers trust their peers, and if companies cultivate strong customer relationships, that trust will extend to those companies, as well.

But taking a shortcut with fake reviews is like constructing a building without a strong foundation. For a while, you’ll see quick growth, but it isn’t built to last. Consumers don’t give their trust out easily, and they’re quick to take it back: former fans of Sunday Riley commented on Reddit that “Even if they actually have good products, I’ll never believe it now because of their manipulation.”

Creating Inbound Integrity

Faking reviews is risky because it can cause companies to lose customers, and customers are hands-down the most valuable asset a company has. 65% of a company’s business comes from recommendations or referrals from other customers, and a 2% increase in customer retention can cut costs by up to 10%. Take risks with your creative assets, take risks with your branding, but never, ever take risks with your customers’ trust — it’s far too valuable.

The good news is that you should never have to. 90% of customers say they would be willing to leave a positive review if asked. If your product or service is too new for customers to have experienced it yet, take a cue from one of Sunday Riley’s competitors, Glossier, who releases products early to a select batch of influencers and highly loyal customers in exchange for (honest!) reviews.

If you believe in your business’s mission and are confident in its quality, there’s never a need to resort to deception. The content marketing rulebook exists for a reason — stick to it.

Author Madeline Killen

Before graduating from Dartmouth College, Madeline studied English and Italian literature, edited the arts section of the campus newspaper, worked as an Italian tutor, and completed a senior honors thesis on Emily Dickinson. At L&T, she’s translated her passion for language — no pun intended — into success in her role writing and managing social media for clients across multiple industries. When she’s not at work, you’ll find her reading, running, or enjoying the perks of moving back to civilization after four years in the New Hampshire wilderness (even though she does miss the trees).

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