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Reviews, Incentives and the Law

Incenting good reviews, or inciting penalties?

Rewarding desired behavior is a simple, humane concept used countless times in rearing children and training animals. Provide a clear understanding of the expectation, and a tasty reward for completing the task. It achieves immediate results, encourages continued good behavior, and influences the actions of others. It makes great sense in marketing, too, within confines of laws and regulations.

The power of online reviews

Online reviews have become an integral part of the consumer buying experience in this country. Consider these statistics from BrightLocal’s 2016 survey:
  • Eighty-four percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
  • Seventy-four percent say positive reviews give them confidence in a local business.
  • Fifty-four percent will visit the business website after reading positive reviews.
  • Seven of every ten consumers will leave a review . . . if asked.
There is no denying that reviews are an influential marketing tool.

Be aware of regulatory restraints

Solicitation of consumer reviews and testimonials is governed by a complex mesh of federal and state laws, collectively known as “pay to play” rules. In their rush to get more online reviews, companies can be facing serious reprisal. Use of incentives to get reviews is legal, but it is presently a hot topic among regulatory commissions, generating scrutiny and heavy fines for improper use. For example:
  • In the state of New York, MedRite Care paid freelance writers and internet advertising companies for positive reviews that appeared to be independent. Reviewers never visited the facility or experienced MedRite’s services. There was no disclosure that reviewers were paid for their comments. That strategy cost MedRite $100,000.
  • New York City’s Carmel car service sent 161,000 emails requesting reviews from customers. Those who evaluated Carmel’s offering as “perfect” or “good” were directed to an internet review site to leave comments. They also received a $10 discount on their next purchase. Customers who selected “bad” were sent to Carmel’s web portal to leave details. They were not asked to post their comments on consumer review sites, and they did not receive compensation. A $75,000 fine was imposed.
  • The Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016, signed by President Obama, shores up FTC and state regulations. HR 5111 prohibit gag clauses in contracts – verbiage that penalizes consumers for negative reviews.

Partner with experts

We are not trying to dissuade medical professionals and businesses from capitalizing on consumer reviews. It is simply essential to understand the rules, to protect your organization while taking full advantage of the advertising potential of reviews. Are you kept busy running your practice or shop? Too busy to pore over complex legislation? Too busy to spend time with legal counsel? We can help. GrowMyReviews is a platform designed to simplify the process, while optimizing positive reviews. Our team is dedicated to the endeavor, well-versed in permissible practices for effective results. Call us at 312-239-0638 to learn how to avoid pitfalls while you grow meaningful reviews.