Better Business

Robb Hicken: Use online consumer reviews judiciously

ROBB HICKEN, chief storyteller for the Better Business Bureau serving the Snake River RegionOctober 8, 2013 

Robb Hicken

Can you spot a fake review? Your customers probably can.

“We advise clients strongly against any surreptitious participation in social media or other review-oriented online activity,” says Shea Andersen, vice president of Ritter Public Relations in Boise. “That sort of thing will always come back to haunt people.”

Search engine optimization has changed how companies view the Internet and social media. Savvy leaders have found ways to bolster their locations on search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and Bing. Reviews can promote a business and increase links to a site — for free. Getting others to shout your praises takes time, but it is invaluable.

“They aren’t the end-all, be-all for business owners,” Andersen says. “Credibility is important; there’s lots of chatter out there.”

“Astroturfing,” or hiring someone to write reviews, is the 21st century’s version of false advertising. Too many unsubstantiated or inflated comments, opinions and statements are put up on websites. The Federal Trade Commission and state of New York last month cracked down and fined companies that hired astroturfers, telling owners “paid” reviews should be clearly labeled as such.

The Better Business Bureau keeps tabs on local businesses advertising and says companies need to avoid subjective claims ... opinion or personal evaluation of the intangible qualities of a product or service. That goes for all forms of advertising.

Customer reviews are helpful, but business owners should be wise about what they post.

“Don’t let yourself get in the habit of chasing down every mention, or you’ll run out of time to do anything else,” Andersen says.

Getting customer reviews takes time. Here are five legitimate ways:

1. Don’t offer incentives. Good customers will do it for free. Offering to pay for reviews could shut out those persons who love your business most. This doesn’t mean you can’t offer free product samples (trial versions) and seek opinions, but be prepared for both good and bad reviews.

2. Make it easy for customers. Ask for referrals. Businesses that seek referrals show they care about their customers. But be transparent about the process and purpose.

3. Be prompt. Don’t wait. People are most likely to give you feedback at the time of service. The more time between service and your request, the less likely you’ll get reviews. Little things such as comment cards can give you greater returns than online requests.

4. Get customers’ email addresses. With an email address, you can follow up two to three days later with a reminder email that provides links for submissions. Emails can account for a huge share of review conversions.

5. Don’t ask people for paid reviews. This almost always backfires. You may get a few positive reviews in the short term, but if your customers are not active on social media sites, you’ll fail to get a return in reviews.

Andersen says an open and positive approach prompts customers to write reviews. Paying someone has the opposite effect.

“There’s nothing good that can come from surreptitious planting of reviews of any kind,” he says.

Finally, fake reviews have too much first-person, too precise names, too many verbs and adverbs, and too many exclamation points!

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