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June 21, 2022

Let's talk about incentivizing reviews // Local Marketing Insider #036

Incentivizing reviews works. Studies have shown that when businesses incentivize reviews they will receive more, the language in the reviews will be more positive, and lasting favorable impression of the review writing experience. But the regulators and review sites don't want you to do it. So where do the opportunities lie?

Incentivizing reviews works. As in 40% lift in positivity.

Studies show offering an incentive boosts the number of reviews a company receives, increases review positivity, and leaves a lasting favorable memory of the review experience, regardless of the product experience.

But, the FTC is wary of review incentives. Google forbids them.

Today I have a short guide to help your business thread the needle.

How to leverage incentives to boost your reputation while avoiding deceptive review practices and minimizing legal exposure. (Hey, so, I’m not a lawyer. View this as a starting point.)

Incentives increase review positivity. Two experiments.

Kaitlin Woolley (Cornell) and Marissa Sharif (UPenn) published a study last year testing to what degree, if any, incentivization impacts review positivity. Here is a longer summary.

Experiment #1

A group of 800 Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime video users were divided into four groups, each receiving a different incentive in exchange for a review of each streaming service.

Group 1: $0.20 incentive

Group 2: Entered into a lottery for $200

Group 3: Entered into a non-monetary lottery, prize Airpods worth $200

Group 4: Control, no incentive

After writing their reviews participants answer questions about how enjoyable they found the process.

Result: According to a computer sentiment analysis, participants offered any incentive wrote reviews containing 40% more positive language as compared to the control group, and they found the process more interesting and enjoyable.

Experiment #2

Diners were asked to take a short survey after finishing their meals.

Half were offered a $1 Amazon gift card and half were offered no incentive.

Results: The same sentiment analysis software used in experiment #1 found a 55% lift in positive language due to the incentive. A group of human judges analyzed the same data and found a 70% lift.

What the study concludes

Simply knowing you’ll receive a reward for writing a review makes you more likely to write a positive review and makes you remember the process of writing the review as more enjoyable.

The limits of an incentive

The study also found that offering an incentive for reviews during a public scandal will lead to the perception of bribery, and consequently none of the lift in positive language experienced in the streaming services and dining experiments.

For local businesses: what to do with this information?

Objectively, as a tool to create a better outcome for your business, incentivizing reviews is clearly worth exploring. 

Of course, it’s not that simple.

While an effective tool, the review platforms and regulatory bodies (FTC) are not oblivious and will go after wrongdoers. 

The FTC’s perspective is that “consumers should be able to trust that these reviews reflect the honest opinions of actual consumers.” 

We agree. Widewail’s stance has always been to help local businesses with the technology and expertise to get the naturally occurring voice of happy customers out into the market where it can do the most good for the business. No deception necessary.

If you break the rules, you risk fines and permanently deleted review content. Before we discuss what you can do, let’s get straight into what’s prohibited.

Review platforms are a no go

Incentivizing reviews are not allowed on the primary review platforms of Google and Facebook. Yelp does not allow asking for reviews at all. Generally, under guidance from the FTC, you’ll find that review platforms regard incentivizing reviews as a violation of their terms of service.

If your business is caught in violation you’ll wake up one day and all your reviews will be gone. 

Google’s policy

Facebook’s policy

This does not mean you cannot incentivize any reviews.

Incentivize reviews (written, video) for your website, organic social, paid social

Reviews that are collected for your website and/or for use via social channels can be incentivized given that when publishing you add a disclaimer noting the review was incentivized. Simple as that.

While incentivizing is allowed by the FTC, there are guidelines.

“If you offer an incentive for a review, don’t condition it, explicitly or implicitly, on the review being positive. Even without that condition, the review should disclose the incentive, because its offer may introduce bias or change the weight and credibility that readers give the review.”

If you’re looking for a high-level view of the FTC’s thinking around reviews I’d recommend the cheeky “I’ll pay you to give the blog post five stars” article the agency published in January of this year.

How we recommend you navigate this

Our recommended approach is still to prioritize getting un-incentivized reviews to review sites, followed by an incentivized video review strategy. 

Why? 

Organic local search rank is still a key focus for local businesses, reviews on Google being a critical driver.

Don’t incentivize:

  • Google and Facebook reviews
  • Industry-specific review sites

Test incentivization for:

  • Video reviews for website and social media

I know I mentioned above the option of incentivizing text reviews for your website. While this is in line with FTC guidelines, I’d instead recommend directing customers to Google first, capturing the content where it will have the most search benefit, and then duplicating Google review content onto your website.

If you’re looking to test incentives, with Widewail’s Incentives Engine you can run incentive campaigns for video reviews, keep track of winners, automatically cap the number of winners and a handful of other useful features.

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Jake Hughes

I’m Marketing Manager here at Widewail, as well as a husband and new dad outside the office. In Vermont by way of Boston, where I grew the CarGurus YouTube channel from 0-100k subscribers. I love the outdoors and hate to be hot, so I’m doing just fine in the arctic Vermont we call home. Fun fact: I met my wife on the shuttle bus at Baltimore airport. Thanks for reading Widewail’s content!

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