Product reviews by real customers can help other consumers contemplating a product to decide if it is worth buying. If the reviews are positive, this can translate into a big sales lift for the retailer, so it makes sense that a business would want to encourage public customer feedback.
"[T]estimonials are truly the pinnacle of marketing because these are viewed as authentic experiences had by individuals who have used your product or service," said Don Osmond, managing partner at OzComm Marketing. "For those researching for your product or service, they will value these reviews in higher regard than all of your marketing efforts combined."
However, not all reviews are created equal: There is a fine line between "incentivized" reviews — offering a free or discounted product in exchange for an honest customer review — and ones that are flat-out bribes. Not only is it unethical to pay someone to leave a positive review, but if it's discovered as a fake, your business reputation could take a serious hit. For this reason, Amazon recently banned incentivized reviews to ensure that all product reviews are authentic and genuine.
"Online reviews should always be earned, not bought," said Jon Eyre, director of content at Podium. "What many businesses fail to realize is that most of their customers would be willing to leave a review if they're asked."
Business News Daily spoke with marketing and business experts about the best practices for politely, professionally and ethically asking customers for reviews. [See Related Story: Negative Customer Review? Turn It Into a Positive Opportunity]
Nick Braun, founder of Pet Insurance Quotes, believes that full transparency and disclosure are critical when promoting your services through reviews. Letting your customers know that reviews help increase your business, or help you figure out where your product or service needs improvement, will encourage them to leave a review.
"We ask customers to provide reviews of our service and always ask for permission before posting their thoughts," Braun said. "We never provide incentive for a review because it would bias our own internal evaluation."
He adds that consumers are smart: If you pay for positive reviews or hide bad reviews, they will know something is off. The point of showing reviews and testimonials is to share your brand with prospects and being genuine is always the best practice.
If you do choose to offer free or discounted products in exchange for a review by an "influencer," such as a blogger or social media user with a lot of followers, be aware that the Federal Trade Commission has a set of detailed Endorsement Guides for anyone publicly endorsing a product at the request of a brand. According to the FTC's website, these guides are meant to disclose advertiser relationships and "reflect the basic truth-in-advertising principle that endorsements must be honest and not misleading."
To ensure that your customers are following best practices (and keep your business out of trouble with the FTC), it's a good idea to explicitly remind incentivized reviewers to state the nature of their endorsement — how they received the product, whether they were asked to write the review, if they received monetary compensation, etc.
FTC guidelines notwithstanding, Matt Iswariah of Luxzura said he thinks influencers should always mention if they received a product for free or at a discount, even if they're not doing a full review.
"Some influencer marketing is done solely for awareness, not as an in-depth review of the item. I see many blogs that do include disclaimers to show how they received the product," Iswariah said.
If a customer agrees to leave you a review, keep an eye out for it online, Osmond said. When it goes live, you should call your customer and thank them for the review and their candor. If it was a negative review, this is a great opportunity to find out how your business can improve, he added.
Looking for more tips on working with social influencers? Check out Business News Daily's guide here.