Update: April 25, 2022: Yelp continues to crack down on compensated reviews, calls on other online platforms to take action
As more companies come out promising that they can get you more “positive” reviews or help you “control” your reputation, it is imperative to find out their process of soliciting and sharing your reviews publicly. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC); “companies can be held responsible for what these service providers do on their behalf, so companies should understand how vendors generate the results they offer.” – JDSupra.com
Falsifying reviews comes in a variety of forms. Today we will clarify each type of falsified review and why all are frowned upon, can be harmful to your customers, and can get you in hot water with the FTC. The FTC has become increasingly aware of deceptive review organizations and is putting them on notice with fines and warning letters.
- Review gating is the process of hiding or only displaying certain reviews about your company. Whether you are using a third party company who is soliciting reviews and then only sending 4 or 5-star reviews to review sites while keeping lower rated or negative feedback for internal use, or you are using an app or paid platform to filter your reviews – both are considered review gating and can be penalized.
- Incentivizing reviews is the process of asking a customer to write a review in exchange for an incentive or as part of a contest. While it is not necessarily against the FTC’s regulations, it is important to be extremely cautious in how you host incentivized review opportunities (and why we recommend steering clear of this process altogether). It is NEVER ok to solicit positive reviews. If you’re hosting a contest or incentive, it is important to clarify that ANY review (good or bad) will be accepted, made public and there will be no consequences for negative reviews. Additionally, per FTC regulations, it is required to share that the review is part of an incentive or contest – either in your company’s review response or the reviewer themself must mention it in their review. This is to ensure consumers are getting an authentic and transparent perspective of your community. Read the FTC’s Guidelines on incentivizing reviews and companies that have recently been penalized for violations of the FTC Act.
- Deceptive reviews is the process of creating fake reviews. Whether a company representative is writing reviews or a customer is being incentivized (without publicly sharing their incentive) to write a review, both are against FTC regulations and can and will be penalized if found.
When companies offer “too good to be true” results, they are likely altering/editing reviews or not publishing all genuine reviews equally and will continue to be held accountable. When a company’s platform delays publishing reviews online to allow you, their client, the opportunity to hide or not publicly share specific reviews – this leaves you and your company at risk.
A company recently to be found using deceptive review practices, is now paying a hefty fine. According to the FTC; “Online fashion retailer Fashion Nova, LLC will be prohibited from suppressing customer reviews of its products and required to pay $4.2 million to settle Federal Trade Commission allegations that the company blocked negative reviews of its products from being posted to its website.”
Additionally, Mike Blumenthal with Near Media shared that 10 review platforms were recently sent letters “placing them on notice that avoiding the collection or publication of negative reviews violates the FTC Act.” If your company is using any of the review management platforms in that list, be aware of how they are soliciting and/or sharing your reviews:
Additionally, if your company is currently using or considering any third party review management platform, it is important to recognize what is considered deceptive and understand that if the platform you use gets flagged, your company could be liable (re: Fashion Nova). Here are several key terms/phrases to look out for in a review management company that might indicate deceptive review practices:
- “resolve negative feedback before it gets posted”
- “mediate and respond to customers who may have had a less-than-favorable experience”
- “accelerate 5-star reviews
- “create unique survey paths based on responses”
- “filter or push positive reviews and give you negative feedback privately”
A couple of key takeaways offered by the FTC and questions you can ask your third party survey or review management provider to ensure they are not participating in deceptive review practices on your behalf are mentioned below and can be further found in “New FTC Guidance on Posting Customer Reviews Online Includes Surprising Dos and Don’ts” published on JDSupra.com.
Suggestions for companies that moderate reviews:
- Have reasonable processes in place to screen out fake or deceptive reviews.
- Do not edit reviews to alter their message.
- Treat positive and negative reviews equally.
With respect to review publication:
- Publish all genuine reviews without excluding negative ones.
- Do not display reviews in a misleading way, such as by highlighting positive reviews and burying negative ones.
- Disclose any compensation or other connection between the company and the reviewer.
This is a topic that our SatisFacts & ApartmentRatings team has been educating our clients and the public about since 2019, well before the FTC began cracking down. On March 21, 2021, we hosted a “Incentivized & Deceptive Online Reviews” webinar with FTC Attorney Robin Rock. You can find the webinar along with helpful articles to review here: Webinar: “Incentivized & Deceptive Online Reviews” w/ the FTC.
In October 2021, our SVP of Education & Performance, Lia Nichole Smith, expanded on this topic in an article titled: “Flirting With Disaster – The 5 Missteps of Apartment Marketing.” In this article, she further elaborated on review gating and deceptive review practices and included statistics from Reevoo, Brightlocal, and Medill Speigel Research Center (MSRC) on the truth about renter preferences when it comes to reviews.
- 30% of renters surveyed suspect censorship or faked reviews when there are no negative reviews, and 68% say they trust reviews of a company more when both positive and negative are present.
- Only 12% of all respondents said they required a 5-star rating in order to consider using a business.
- 4.2 to 4.6 ratings are most trusted; products in this range are more likely to be purchased than those that were rated 4.7 to 5.0.
- Near-perfect ratings undermine the credibility of the review and 82% of shoppers specifically seek out negative reviews.
If a company is telling you that it’s important to have only 5-star reviews or that negative reviews will harm your online reputation and/or your SEO ranking, they are missing the mark on what really matters to renters.
The goal, of course, is to have happy residents; however, this should not be a false representation of your company. When you habitually utilize strategic planning tools to measure, identify, and improve the entire resident experience – you will see real, authentic results that will allow you to be proud of your resident satisfaction results and your genuine online reputation:
- Prioritize internal feedback such as employee and resident surveys
- Create effective and actionable plans to improve community and team performance
- Respond to and resolve resident complaints/feedback in a timely manner with respect and honesty
- Promote a sense of community among your residents (the #1 value driver for residents nationwide since 2013)
As a client of SatisFacts & ApartmentRatings, you are provided with free education and action plans that are customized to your company and community needs. Additionally, we provide a wealth of free education from articles to webinars that anyone can access on our website and YouTube channel.
Renters have spoken time and time again and what they want to see is genuine, honest feedback – both good and bad – and real responses from company team members showing they care and are working to resolve resident issues. Anything less will cost you leads, renewals, and potentially a lot of money if your company or community is found to be practicing deceptive review practices.