Sock puppet marketing is the use of a false identity to artificially stimulate demand for a product, brand or service. A false identity on the Internet is known colloquially as a sock puppet or catfish, depending upon the level of detail attached to the false identity. Typically, a sock puppet has very little (if any) detail attached to it and may simply be a fictional name attached to a new Google or Yahoo email account.
Sock puppet marketing is one example of astroturfing, the practice of artificially stimulating online conversation and positive reviews about a product, brand or service. Because sock puppets can be created quickly and do not need to be maintained, they are often used on social media sites to grow public interest or conversely, denigrate a competitor’s product, brand or service. Many websites that rely on customer reviews have mechanisms in place to discourage the use of sock puppets. Some sites, for example, will only allow a verified customer to post a review.
Sock puppet marketing and sock puppetry in general are unethical and in some cases, illegal. If detected, sock puppet marketing efforts can have a negative impact, causing potential customers to lose trust and wonder if the product or service is so lacking in value that it cannot be effectively promoted honestly. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has the legal authority to levy fines if a company engages in sock puppet marketing.
Matt Cutts, from Google, explains the hazards of sock puppet marketing: