One of the best ways of demonstrating social proof of a business’s value is through the provision by clients and customers of reviews and testimonials.
We all know that consumers value word of mouth, however they also tend to trust businesses when they read (or hear video) testimonials because they have an expectation that the review will be genuine, provided in good faith and independent.
There are guidelines for businesses provided by the ACCC (Australian Competition & Consumer Commission) and we will outline these in this post.
It is important to understand that it the onus is on the business to ensure that reviews are genuine and not fake. Failure to remove a fake review could breach the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. Fines can be substantial. The ACCC fined removalist business Citymove $6,000 in 2011 for posting fake testimonials from people who were not genuine customers).
What is a fake review?
When a review appears to be impartial but in fact the review was written by:
- the reviewed business itself
- a competitor
- someone paid to write the review who has not used the product
- someone who has used the product but written an inflated review to receive a financial or non-financial benefit*
*if a product has had a sponsored review, then the commercial relationship must be clearly disclosed (ie paying a blogger to write a review on a product)
Be aware of behaviours which the ACCC considers to be misleading:
- asking friends and family to review a product without disclosing their relationship to you (we see this on Facebook pages often). They must disclose their relationship to the business within the review
- soliciting others to write reviews either of your own business or a competitors when they have not experienced the service or used the product
- do not write reviews yourself when you have not experienced the good or service reviewed or which do not reflect a genuinely held opinion.
These are important to be aware of. The concept of a genuinely held opinion means that you may not have experienced the good or service, but you have had dealings with the person or business in such a way (perhaps through provision of free advice or online information) which mean you are not afraid to put your own good name against their product or service.
Offering incentives (prizes, money, discounts, benefits, trading reviews for goods/services) for reviews
- You can only offer incentives where the incentive is offered to a reviewer equally whether it is positive or negative (you cannot offer an incentive for a positive review). Reviews must be treated equally and negative reviews not removed,
- At the time of making the offer it must be clearly stated that the incentive will be granted whether review is positive or negative
- You must also disclose on the reviews that an incentive was offered so that readers are aware .
Our recommendation is that you do not offer incentives.
Editing or Omitting reviews
Be aware that your business reputation and integrity is at stake. Be transparent and fully disclose any commercial agreements around testimonials.
If your business is the target of harrassment via fake reviews
The ACCC advise Businesses who are affected by fake negative reviews to lodge a complaint to the platform which publishes and review and also to any regularatory authorities. In extreme cases where there is ongoing harrassement or threats, the Police may need to be contacted. Unfortunately a very small proportion of people will post reviews which are not a genuinely held opinion, but motivated by dislike of a business or a staff member. We often see this in online platforms where people rally others to their cause who have not experienced the good or service but start posting negative reviews. This can seriously damage a business reputation.
In rare cases the negatives can actually boost a business as was seen recently with Irish business The White Moose Cafe, when comments made by the manager towards customers who were Vegan in regards to their needs, sparked an online social media war. Thousands of Vegans posted one star reviews, but the cafe owner found the controversy brought in more and more customers (no doubt of the non vegan persuasion) and many more reviews. They now have over 15,000 reviews with an average of 4.8 out of 5 – and they sell t-shirts. We don’t recommend trying this. So many things could have gone wrong including worst case some kind of violence. In fact we are watching for any flare ups. There are many pages and groups started against the Cafe, with equally as many started against the people who are against the Cafe – and this is behaviour that concerns us should people outside of the restaurant become involved. It certainly makes for an interesting case study.
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You can learn more at the ACCC site Managing online reviews
Fiona Lucas is the founder of iRespectOnline. She is passionate about helping small businesses to grow, thrive and build reputation online. Fiona is an ethical marketer providing bespoke online marketing strategies to enable businesses to leverage social media for growth. Underpinning everything she does, as Australia’s first online reputation evangelist she is passionate about driving social change towards a more respectful online environment.
She was named in Mamamia’s Top 50 women to watch online 2013, Finalist Geelong Small Business Awards 2017 – Social Media Influencer and is a virtual community manager for Social Media Marketing World. Fiona presents on digital futures, cybersafety and digital marketing.
Fiona is the author of Futureproof Your Kids – a parents guide to the social media playground.