Online reviews help your business rank better in local searches, win the valuable trust of consumers, and improve its customer retention rates. The problem? You don’t have enough of them. The solution? It seems obvious — just incentivize your customers to leave more reviews.
Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. On the contrary, providing incentives for reviews can lead to serious negative consequences for your business, which we discussed in depth here. You run the risk of being fined by regulators, having your reviews removed, and potentially even losing your business.
On the other hand, there are also some situations where incentivizing reviews can be an effective marketing strategy that helps give your business the boost it’s looking for — provided your team utilizes the right sort of strategy. It all depends on where the review is being posted or shared, along with a few other factors that we’ll explore in this post. Follow along as our review response experts discuss how to get more reviews for your business — without getting sued or investigated in the process.
Why Does My Business Need More Reviews?
Whether you’re a small local business or a nationwide franchise, your brand needs online reviews to help it succeed in today’s world. Studies have shown that consumers are less likely to trust businesses with fewer than 40 reviews, while nearly half trust reviews “as much as personal recommendations from friends and family.” And it isn’t only the quantity of your reviews that matters, but the quality of your ratings. Only 6% of consumers are willing to shop at a business with a rating of less than three stars, compared to 40% who say that four stars is their minimum threshold.
This kind of data speaks to the immense power of online reviews to educate, entice, and connect your business to consumers. In a time where consumer trust is at a low and consumers expect a high degree of personalization, your reviews — and responses — provide valuable opportunities to build trust among shoppers who are unfamiliar with your brand, while simultaneously strengthening brand loyalty among your existing customers. Maybe that’s why responding to reviews has been proven to increase retention rates by 124%, or why businesses that reply to their reviews earn 33% more revenue than average (not to mention the local SEO benefits of responding to reviews).
With so much to be gained, it’s common sense that your business should strive to obtain as many reviews as possible. Unfortunately, providing incentives for reviews can get your business into trouble with the Federal Trade Commission or other groups — at least, if you take the wrong approach. So what are some must-know do’s and don’ts when providing incentives to leave reviews? Let’s go over some key points that businesses need to be aware of.
Do’s and Don’ts When Offering Incentives for Reviews
Don’t: Incentivize Reviews on Major Platforms Like Google
Yelp, Facebook, and Google My Business (GMB) are the three largest online review platforms — and, for many businesses, the most important to track and monitor. According to data from BrightLocal, more than 80% of consumers used Google to browse reviews in 2021, with around half of consumers also relying on Facebook and/or Yelp.
However, all of these platforms ban businesses from purchasing, incentivizing, or otherwise manipulating their reviews, arguing that consumers are harmed by being misled and deceived. If you attempt to provide incentives for reviews on Google, Facebook, and/or Yelp, prepare to face penalties like the suspension or deletion of your account, removal of the reviews, and/or, at least in Yelp’s case, a prominent alert that warns consumers about your business.
Do: Provide Incentives for Reviews on Your Website
When it comes to your own website, you have more freedom and flexibility. For example, your homepage is the perfect place to showcase a few positive reviews that you’re especially proud of. That being said, there are still some rules to keep in mind, which brings us to our next tip…
Don’t: Make the Incentive Conditional on a Positive Rating
So, you’ve decided to start offering incentives for 5-star reviews, which you can’t wait to share on your website and social channels!
There’s just one problem with this plan: even if you provide incentives, you still can’t require the associated reviews to be positive. Doing so would constitute a clear violation of the FTC’s current guidelines, which state, “If you offer an incentive for a review, don’t condition it, explicitly or implicitly, on the review being positive” — or, as the FTC put it in another post, “It’s unwise to incentivize positive skewed reviews.” That means you’re prohibited from offering payments, discounts, gift cards, freebies, specials, passes, or any other types of rewards as compensation for positive ratings and comments — an issue the FTC addressed earlier this year. You should only seek genuine reviews, even if they turn out to contain neutral or negative sentiments.
Do: Promote Transparency
Remember those FTC guidelines we mentioned a moment ago? We recommend taking the time to review the FTC’s complete guide to soliciting reviews for marketers, which goes into detail about compliance; but for now, here’s an important quote we want to highlight:
[The incentivized] review should disclose the incentive, because its offer may introduce bias or change the weight and credibility that readers give the review.
In other words, consumers might feel differently about a review if they know that its writer received an incentive. For that reason, incentivized reviews should contain clear language disclosing the incentive — even if posted on your own website — which will help you comply with FTC regulations if you opt for this sort of strategy. Of course, you should review your plan carefully with a business attorney or trusted legal expert, which is the best way to avoid accidental noncompliance (and the costly consequences it can bring).
How Do Businesses Get Reviews?
Businesses use a wide variety of review generation and collection strategies. For example, data shows that the top five most common methods are to use emails (41% of consumers over a 12-month period), to use invoices or receipts (35%), to ask the customer in person or during the sales experience (also 35%), to send a text message (27%), and to use social media (18%). The number of consumers who received requests for reviews via text message increased significantly from 2020 (20%) to 2021 (27%), marking this as a trend to watch in review generation.
Grow Your Brand with Our Review Generation and Review Response Service for Franchises and Agencies
Built for franchises and agencies, our review generation system empowers you to set up email and/or text requests using one of our ready-to-go templates, or create your own custom requests that capture your brand’s unique voice and flair. You can choose from a variety of manual and automated request options for the best results, plus view detailed progress reports to track and improve your performance. Level up your campaign with our review reply service, which provides your team with a dedicated response scribe who ensures that your customers are responded to within 24 hours via our white label review management platform.
From our custom review reply service and secure, centralized dashboard, to our business listings management and review generation services, Shout About Us provides the full suite of reputation management solutions for agencies and franchises. Contact us online or schedule a demo to discover how your brand could benefit.
Emily Homrok is a freelance copywriter with more than seven years of writing experience. She joined the Shout About Us team as a content strategist in 2020.