A Solicited or Paid Review is a Risky Review

online reviews

We had a solid discussion at a regional leadership event on collecting reviews from businesses and consumers online. Much of the discussion was around paid reviews or rewarding customers for reviews. I’m not an attorney, so I’d recommend you speak to yours before listening to me. My stance on this is simple… don’t pay or reward reviews. You may disagree with me, but just as the organic search industry was overtaken by falsely inflating rankings, reviews have a similar issue. And the companies that participated lost a lot more than they ever gained.

The Risks of Paid and Rewarded Reviews

It’s my personal belief that you’re going to have 4 issues when you pay or reward reviews:

  1. Legal Issues – You may be breaking FTC guidelines. Not only that, the employee, company, or person you’re paying is also at risk of breaking FTC guidelines. Today, we’re not seeing a lot of activity on this. However, in the future I believe there will be systems optimized to identify relationships that will ultimately get all the parties in trouble. Besides the government, don’t be surprised if you get sued by one of the platforms as well.
  2. Violations – You may invest quite a bit in reviews today, but when you’re caught violating the site’s terms of services, that content will be forever lost and your reputation may be damaged well beyond any investment you ever made. Getting caught paying for reviews and having that go public is not worth any risk. A few bucks spent today could cost your company everything later.
  3. Integrity – Seriously, where’s your integrity as a business? Is this really how you wish to do business? If you can’t be trusted to manage a clean online reputation, do you really believe that consumers and businesses will want to do business with you?
  4. Quality – Do yourself a favor and go read some reviews on Angie’s List. These aren’t one sentence, they’re quality reviews that describe the entire process many buyers went through with a service provider. Angie’s List recently lowered their paywall and consumers are now realizing why so many Angie’s List subscribers love the service. Great reviews are difficult to fake.

So How Do You Get More Reviews?

There’s a difference between soliciting for reviews and asking for them. I shared a story a few years ago with a GM survey solicitation that was absolutely terrible. Basically, if I answered anything less than perfect, someone’s head was going to get chopped off. That’s solicitation. And telling your customer there’s a reward for their review is no different than soliciting the review! Don’t do it.

When one of our clients writes us with a thank-you, tweets a thumbs-up online, or tells us in person how much they appreciate us, we thank them and ask if they could put it in writing… either with a customer testimonial or an online review. Notice the order? They told us first, and then we asked for it. We did not solicit it without their input. We didn’t promise anything in return, either. Can we follow up with a gift as a thank-you? Of course, but it was not expected nor promised.

I’d also recommend publishing your page for each review site on your site. It’s not soliciting to let prospects and customers know where to find you… and a happy customer will run to your Facebook page and give you a review. Make it easy for your customers to find, include it on internal communications with your customers, and share your great reviews when they’re submitted.

The quality of every review platform is largely dependent upon the quality of the reviews that they have there. Aside from stringent policies, many of these services also incorporate algorithms to weed out fake reviews. Amazon is really serious about their policy and is now actively suing thousands of people selling reviews. Here are some common review sites and their policies:

Amazon Review Policy

Amazon doesn’t mince words and wants no friends, family, or company members to do reviews. They also don’t want you paying for them, of course.

Promotional Reviews – In order to preserve the integrity of Customer Reviews, we do not permit artists, authors, developers, manufacturers, publishers, sellers or vendors to write Customer Reviews for their own products or services, to post negative reviews on competing products or services, or to vote on the helpfulness of reviews. For the same reason, family members or close friends of the person, group, or company selling on Amazon may not write Customer Reviews for those particular items.

Paid Reviews – We do not permit reviews or votes on the helpfulness of reviews that are posted in exchange for compensation of any kind, including payment (whether in the form of money or gift certificates), bonus content, entry to a contest or sweepstakes, discounts on future purchases, extra product, or other gifts.

Google’s Review Policy

Google’s Review policy clearly states that it will remove content that violates their review policy:

Conflict of interest: Reviews are most valuable when they are honest and unbiased. If you own or work at a place, please don’t review your own business or employer. Don’t offer or accept money, products, or services to write reviews for a business or to write negative reviews about a competitor. If you’re a business owner, don’t set up review stations or kiosks at your place of business just to ask for reviews written at your place of business.

Yelp Review Policy

Yelp flat out tells businesses to Do Not Ask for Reviews:

Solicited reviews are less likely to be recommended by our automated software, and that will drive you crazy. Why aren’t these reviews recommended? Well, we have the unfortunate task of trying to help our users distinguish between real and fake reviews, and while we think we do a pretty good job at it with our fancy computer algorithms, the harsh reality is that solicited reviews often fall somewhere in between. Imagine, for example, the business owner who “asks” for a review by sticking a laptop in front of a customer and smilingly invites her to write a review while he looks over her shoulder. We don’t need these kinds of reviews, so it shouldn’t be a surprise when they aren’t recommended.

Angie’s List Review Policy

Angie’s List has incredible clarity in their review policy:

  • All of Your reviews and ratings will either be based upon: (i) Your actual first-hand experiences with the Service Providers You are reviewing; or (ii) as provided under Section 14 (Service Providers) below, an individual and that individual’s actual first-hand experience with a health care or wellness provider whereby You have the legal authority to disclose such health information and experience of such individual;
  • All of Your reviews and ratings of the Service Providers that You are rating will be accurate, truthful and complete in all respects;
  • You do not work for, own any interest in, or serve on the board of directors of, any of the Service Providers for which You submit reviews and ratings;
  • You do not work for, own any interest in or serve on the board of directors of any competitors of the Service Providers for which You submit reviews and ratings;
  • You are not in any way related (by blood, adoption, marriage, or domestic partnership, if the Service Provider is an individual) to any of the Service Providers for which You submit reviews or ratings;
  • Your name and review information will be made available to the Service Providers on which You review; and
    Angie’s List may modify, adapt, or reject Your reviews if they do not conform with Angie’s List’s publication criteria, which may change from time to time at Angie’s List’s sole discretion.

Facebook Review Policy

Facebook points to their Community Standards but doesn’t get very specific about solicitation or paid reviews although they emphasize authentic reviews.

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