LONDON: Half of marketers think the effectiveness of social media is being put at risk by dishonest practices while almost as many consumers are wary of brands on these platforms for the same reason, a new study has found.

The Chartered Institute of Marketing surveyed 3,000 consumers and 1,150 marketers in the UK for its Keeping Social Honest study, the results of which were shared with Marketing Week.

Just over half of marketers surveyed (51%) claimed to have seen "questionable" content from brands on social media during the preceding six months and a similar proportion (52%) agreed that the channel's effectiveness was threatened as a result.

Only a very few, however, admitted to any deception on their own part: 2.3% had bought fans while 2.1% confessed to faking reviews and 1.5% to falsifying user-generated content.

Awareness of such practices meant that 44% of consumers surveyed found it difficult to trust brands on social media and almost half (47%) stated they would boycott a brand if it was found to be manipulating the system.

Consumers were even more concerned about the volume of ads than the validity of any claims made. Two thirds (64%) said they would stop using social media if it became overloaded with ads and marketing messages.

Despite their cynicism, consumers appeared unable to stop themselves engaging with brands. The survey also found that more than half of Facebook users had interacted with a brand in the preceding three months, a figure which rose to 75% among Twitter users.

Marketers will often seek to attract consumers with an offer of free products, but while two thirds of the former regarded it as acceptable to encourage positive online reviews this way, just 48% of the latter thought it ethical.

An even wider gap appeared when asked about employees liking and sharing brand messages – 70% of businesses were comfortable with this practice but only 28% of consumers.

"It is in every brand and marketer's best interests to take this more seriously," said Thomas Brown, associate director of research and insights at CIM.

"Even if a small portion of the industry continues to manipulate and damage the trust of consumers, we will all be tarred with the same brush and it will impact the effectiveness of the medium for all marketers."

Data sourced from Marketing Week; additional content by Warc staff