As a local business owner, you already know the kind of impact a negative review can have on your business reputation – and bottom line. Of course, the best way to fight this is at the source: by providing good customer service and a quality product customers won’t have a reason to complain. It’s also good to ask happy customers to write positive reviews online. But when it comes to the Federal Trade Commission’s Endorsement Guidelines, how you request reviews is just as important as what’s being posted.
A few years ago, the “blog-for-pay” trend was gaining serious popularity with big brands. Larger companies were hiring armies of writers to blog or write reviews intended to influence consumers a certain way, but readers never knew money was changing hands. Marketing experts saw this as a big problem – and the FTC agreed. Why? Because receiving payment for a blog post or review is the same thing as a paid endorsement, which is essentially an advertisement. And ordinary consumers reading those blog entries and reviews thought they were reading an individual’s thoughts on a product or service – not ads.
So, the FTC revised their Endorsement Guides (aka “truth-in-advertising” rules) to address the issue and reflect three basic principles:
- Endorsements must be truthful and not misleading.
- Ads must clearly and conspicuously disclose the generally expected results in the depicted circumstances.
- If there’s a connection between the endorser and the marketer of the product that would affect how people evaluate the endorsement, it should be disclosed.
Now, these guidelines apply to the entire spectrum of businesses that may be advertising products and services. So the first two have more of an impact on the way agencies make TV ads for popular, everyday products (like cleaning solutions or cosmetics). But the third bullet listed above carries the most weight for local businesses because “a connection between the endorser and the marketer of the product” can be applied very broadly.
One expert breaks it down by explaining: “Bloggers and users of social media are required to disclose if their reviews have been compensated for, or are otherwise sponsored by an advertiser.” This means that if a local business owner gives cash, a discount, products or other special treatment specifically in exchange for a review, the reviewer must disclose that transaction because that relationship can affect how readers evaluate the review. Just put yourself in an everyday consumer’s shoes: a review that is not influenced by a discount or free product will be perceived as more authentic and true-to-life. On the other hand, a review influenced by some kind of payment may be perceived as biased (at best) or blatant cheating (at worst).
So what does that mean for your business? Yes, you should ask customers to write positive reviews for you – but make it clear they should only do so out of the kindness of their hearts. Don’t offer customers any goodies or financial/material incentives at the time you ask for a positive review or else they will be required by law to disclose that incentive.
So what’s a good way of asking for reviews, and what are some tactics that can be reported as punishable violations? Here are some examples:
- Posting signage in your store that states, “Love supporting local business? Write a review for us on Yelp!”
- Asking happy customers in person, at the point-of-sale or over the phone to post an online review about their experience with your business.
- Getting your own employees (or hiring an agency) to pretend they are ordinary customers and write reviews about your business online.
- Offering cash, a discount, or a free product/service in exchange for a review about your business.
The FTC has already taken action against fraudulent online endorsements, so don’t make your local business an easy target. Social media is all about authentic transparency, so play by the rules to reap the rewards of a strong online reputation!
How are you requesting positive online reviews from your favorite customers – online, in person, or through other methods? What’s the best review you’ve ever seen about your business online? Share your story in a comment!