What is astroturfing?  Astroturfing (also referred to as “astrosurfing”) is defined by Wikipedia as the practice of masking the sponsor of a message to give the appearance that it comes from an independent, disinterested source.  In other words, a business owner would be astrosurfing by posting a positive review of his or her business (for example, a restaurant) while using an assumed name or posting anonymously.

According to Wikipedia, the late U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen is credited with first coining the term “astroturfing” in this context back in the 1980s in reference to the enormous number of letters he was receiving purportedly from constituents voicing support for various insurance industry interests, “a fellow from Texas can tell the difference between grass roots and AstroTurf…this is generated mail.”

While very tempting given the power of social media in today’s business world, business owners should avoid this practice at all costs.  Most would hopefully agree that astrosurfing is dishonest and unethical at the least, and arguably illegal at worst.  The practice distorts and disrupts the potential power of social media to fuel economic growth and could spell the end of your business–from a public relations perspective if not a legal one.

If you want to toot your own horn through social media, or pay someone else to do it for you, then go right ahead, but be honest and transparent in doing so.   Trying to use the Internet as a tool to profit through deception may seem harmless, but I suspect will prove to be a regrettable choice sooner or later.