A social media account or an online presence in general has been a business necessity for well over a decade. It not only exposes your product or service to a much wider audience, but also creates a channel of direct communication between operator and potential customers. It started with websites, but social media platforms such as Facebook or e-commerce sites became far more potent platforms for the public to learn about businesses; more importantly, for customers to review these establishments.
Over time, reviews have become a very powerful instrument for business operators and customers alike. The former can use it to gauge their performance while the latter can form an opinion what to expect from the business. Unfortunately, reviews have become an exploitable tool for the same exact reasons except for less noble reasons.
Review gating is when the comment/review section moderator or business owners deletes any unfavorable postings to keep their average perception high. This has no place in managing an online presence and defeats the purpose of getting evaluated; what’s worse is that the writer of the review will know about his or her opinion getting deleted, possibly raising a nightmare PR scenario.
… And that’s before the authorities get in the picture.
Deleting online reviews are illegal, as Fashion Nova LLC found out when the California-based fashion retailer was found guilty of suppressing customer reviews on its website. The American government’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined the company US$4.2 million.
What brand owners/moderators should do instead:
– Show reviews from all customers
– Give positive and negative reviews equal attention
– If the review is negative, find ways to improve. Engage the reviewer to explain or solve the issue.
– If it somehow leads to bullying, refer here.
– Close the loop — this refers to answering every review (or as many as possible). This leads to transparency, creates trust, and possibly convert sceptics to advocates.
The FTC is similarly strict in making sure that deceptive endorsements and fake reviews are penalized. So far, they have sent more than 700 ‘Notice of Penalties’, which are stern warnings to advertisers for employing this method, and infringements could incur penalties up to $43,792 per violation.
The rabbit hole goes deeper, unfortunately. Reviews on Amazon are powerful in influencing customers’ expectations, to the point that there is a black market for paid reviews. The tech giant knows this and has initiated legal action against administrators of more than 10,000 groups in Facebook which deals solely in coordinating phony reviews on e-commerce sites including Amazon. The company says that these misleading reviews orchestrated by such groups are present in America, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Japan.
The group works as a broker who offer fake review made by its members to Amazon sellers in exchange for cash or refunds. As it is, Meta (Facebook’s parent company) has taken down more than half of the more than 10,000 groups reported by Amazon. These bogus statements are also provided for Google reviews, Yelp, Trip Advisor and other similar sites.
Getting Honest Reviews
Fraudulent reviews and opinions could very soon render any sort of publicly made feedback ineffective (even sincere ones). In return, smaller businesses will be the worse effected as the lack of budget available for marketing and advertising is compounded further by customer reviews which no one considers to be useful.
Getting comments about your business service or product given voluntarily is easier said than done, however. Such feedback — or lack of it — are indicative of their customer experience too.
A SATISFIED CUSTOMER Customers who feel that they spent on something truly worthwhile are almost always ready to share their experience. If such sharings are not forthcoming, consider the possibility that some improvements are needed.
MAKE CONTACT Reach out to as many customers as possible, personally, via email, or by phone. Ask about any pain points or of things which can be improved. Be sincere and attentive; at the very least, customers will pick up on your thoughtfulness.
ASK FOR A REVIEW Some people may no be aware how important their feedback is, so explain it to them. But find out if the platform allows for this (Yelp, for example, considers soliciting of reviews as unacceptable).