While some argue that there’s nothing wrong with rewarding customers with a gift card, cash, or a discount for going online to review a company, others oppose it as at best unethical and at worst a lousy business practice.
Here are some of the pros and cons.
You already do it. Rewarding clients for online reviews is a “natural progression” from rewarding them for referrals, says Jeff Moeslein, president of Legacy Remodeling, in Pittsburgh. A page on Legacy’s website steps clients through the Google, Angie’s List, and Yelp review processes.
Positive reviews are acknowledged with a $25 gift card. Moeslein reads every review and forwards it to the appropriate team member.
If you don’t do it, you miss out. Companies such as vPunch, an electronic loyalty program, make it easy to reward clients for writing online reviews. VPunch business clients register customers for a vPunch account. Online reviews flow through the vPunch website, as does transaction activity. vPunch posts the review on a review site or via social media. The review is another way to earn rewards in the form of “virtual money,” i.e., future discounts.
You shouldn’t need to. Last year 15 of the 40 jobs undertaken by Harris Construction & Woodworking, in Poway, Calif., directly resulted from remarks posted about the company on Yelp. Owner James Harris says all he did to make that happen was to let clients know that he is on Yelp. They do the rest. “From a customer’s standpoint,” he says, a “review that’s solicited or paid for lacks credibility. You have to take those with a grain of salt.”
It’s palm-greasing. Brand expert and author Rob Fuggetta, president of Zuberance, in California, cites several reasons, including new Federal Trade Commission guidelines directing reviewers who are paid to state such. “Authenticity is important,” he says, “and ... the results are better when you don’t pay.” Zuberance has generated more than 30 million online reviews, including tweets and blog posts, for clients, “and not a single advocate has received a dime.”
You’ll get flagged.Morgan Remmers, manager of Yelp’s local business outreach, says that the company’s policy is to “discourage solicitation or reward” of online reviews as these create bias because businesses only steer happy customers there. Such reviews violate Yelp’s terms of service. The company’s site has a filter that edits or even deletes suspect reviews, including not only those reviews “paid to be written” but those believed to be authored by competitors out to slam another business’s reputation. Remmers says that in addition, Yelp has “a human team” that evaluates reviews.
The Rest of April's Cover Story:
Online Review Sites topic page
Necessary? Evil?: Online review sites are here to stay
Sites for Sore Eyes: Consumer-driven sites leave contractors no choice but to play the game
Site Guide: A quick guide to the dominant online review services
Optimized Engagement: SEO experts explain how reviews can boost your online visibility
I heart Angie (Not): Contractors' love-hate relationship with the online world's biggest player
Leading Lights: A shifting definition of what constitutes a lead
Friend or Faux?: Despite fake reviews, consumers are stll believers—for now
Friendly Recommendation: Word still spread quickly via the new wave of review sites that use media