Online reviews are an effective driver of growth for businesses operating in the digital age. Compared to sites without reviews, those displaying customer feedback can boost their conversion rate by 354 percent and revenue by 446 percent per person (Bazaarvoice’s Shopper Experience Index).
However, customers willing to write reviews about your service or product do not automatically flock to you. Proactive review generation – asking for feedback via various channels – is still the most efficient way to generate reviews. And this is where companies can get stuck.
So how do you generate reviews sustainably to gain consumer trust and achieve your growth goals?
In this blog, we focus on an unconventional review generation tool: incentivized reviews. If it sounds like a risky proposition, that’s because it is. Asking consumers to provide feedback in exchange for compensation is a controversial tactic that can lead to fines and penalties. But with the right execution, businesses can also benefit from incentivizing customer reviews while minimizing the risks.
As pointed out by Tim Clarke, Rize Reviews’ senior reputation manager:
We always say, ‘incentive is paid for any feedback, positive or negative, private or public.” That way, we aren’t incentivizing just a 5-star review, and we follow the rules of Google [and other review sites].”
Let’s discuss this approach in detail below.
Do Incentivized Reviews Work?
Incentivized or paid reviews are not classified as trusted reviews in the same sense as organic reviews. Instead, they belong in the gray area, which most online reputation management companies fear to tread.
But according to customer surveys and studies done in recent years, there’s more to the story: It turns out offering incentives can be beneficial to brands and businesses. Making it work, however, requires paying careful attention to the context.
Let’s talk about two significant benefits and the context in which they work:
Increasing Net Positivity
Companies that know the importance of online reviews and incorporate incentives into their initiatives experience more positive than negative effects overall.
A 2021 study published on the Harvard Business Review (HBR) website found that consumers are more likely to give good feedback if the review experience is enjoyable. And offering incentives, financial or not, helps bring out those positive feelings. For example, in one of the experiments, the researchers said that the possibility of a reward increased the positive language in reviews by 55 percent.
However, there are a couple of things to note here:
- First, those who want to gain customer trust should generate reviews in good faith. So let customers complete their experience with your product or service before asking for incentivized feedback. And like in the study, explicitly tell them to “provide accurate, honest descriptions.”
- Next, paid reviews should never be used to cover up a scandal or any unethical practice on the side of the business. You cannot maximize net positivity this way. The study showed that people are unlikely to participate in an incentivized review program if they feel they are being bribed.
Reducing Impact on Customer Trust
A Bazaarvoice report released in 2018 showed that 58 percent of United States consumers were willing to trust paid reviews. The majority also said they thought feedback from their incentivized peers was useful in their purchase decision. Further, they believed that this type of feedback would benefit businesses with very few reviews.
While there seems to be no impact on customer trust, you have to consider the context in which this situation can occur:
- The Bazaarvoice customer survey labeled incentivized reviews as such: incentivized. Reliable reputation management consultants would also warn you against skipping this part as it is a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) violation.
- Based on the report, you can leverage this type of review generation tool if you want to boost your results, especially if you’re just beginning. At Rize, for instance, Clarke said the normal response rate is 2 to 10 percent. But with an incentivized approach, it can go up to 10 to 20 percent.
Of course, we also acknowledge that once you’ve gathered the numbers, you should know how to respond to positive reviews to keep the ball rolling – and avoid relying on paid tactics alone.
Also, you have to deal with the other side of the coin: 42 percent or four in 10 people were found to be less trusting of solicited reviews with incentives. That said, you should think about partnering with a provider of the best reputation management services to ensure you’re reducing risks and employing this tactic correctly.
Best Practices for Running an Incentivized Review Campaign
Seeking incentivized reviews risks crossing ethical boundaries, so it is critical to err on the side of caution and use them with the utmost care. Below are some of the best practices for maximizing incentivized reviews as an online reputation management tool:
Request Honest Feedback
Based on the HBR study shared above, you should explicitly tell incentivized reviewers to provide honest, accurate feedback. This also means you have to set up a system that verifies they purchased your product or used your service.
Now, someone who wants to garner as many reviews as possible regardless of authenticity may take this step for granted. So it all boils down to being honest yourself. For instance, design customer surveys that try to understand the buyer experience because it shows you value the opinion of those directly affected by your offering. The incentives are simply there to thank the respondents for their time.
Label Incentivized Reviews
Aside from informing consumers that you’re requesting reviews in exchange for something of value, you should label incentivized feedback as such. Full disclosure will prevent you from having a review snafu, the FTC said, and help build trust between you and customers.
Emphasizing the FTC’s point, proper labeling lets you avoid breaking any online review site’s rules on paid reviews. Trusted reviews platforms like the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Trustpilot and Yelp, for instance, will not publish incentivized feedback. Moreover, passing off reviews involving incentives as organic to bypass their system can lead to fines and penalties.
On the other hand, Google is unclear on its guidelines but has said before that it reserves the right to “disable user-generated contributions for individual business profiles and business categories to prevent abuse.”
Do Not Remove Negative Reviews
Providers of the best reputation management services encourage brands and businesses to learn how to respond to positive reviews. But they are also careful to remind you that less favorable feedback exists in reality. In that case, you should never, ever delete bad reviews – a good balance between the positive and negative is a more realistic view of your brand and builds customer trust.
Instead, manage bad reviews by:
- Acknowledging reviewers’ legitimate concerns
- Apologizing about the situation even if you made no mistake
- Asking customers if you could take the conversation offline
Work With Trusted ORM Professionals
Partner with reputation management consultants who know the importance of online reviews and the advantage of diversified review generation tactics. A huge plus: Finding a firm that specializes in leveraging a tricky yet powerful review generation tool. This company must be well-versed in developing a violation-free incentivized review program. It should also have experience handling negative reviews and turning them into marketing opportunities (i.e., converting a disgruntled customer into a brand advocate).
Achieve Your Desired Results With Incentivized Reviews
The HBR and Bazaarvoice studies understood the importance of online reviews. They also showed us that, with the right practices, incentivized reviews could be just as effective as organic reviews. However, you should approach this reputation management tool with caution for its controversial nature.
Better yet, rely on trusted reviews experts like Rize Reviews to engage in incentivized reviews in a way that doesn’t violate any rules and, most importantly, yields the results you’re looking for.
Forget about other online reputation management companies. With Rize, you can boost your conversion rate and revenue with more positive reviews. Our holistic approach to review generation combines different channels to deliver the highest return on your investment. We employ incentives strategically to complement email, SMS, QR codes and other customer-friendly tactics.
Further, you can focus on making your business better while we strategize on how to respond to positive reviews, maximize incentivized reviews and build customer loyalty.
Have a chat with one of our representatives to find out which of our best reputation management services can fill your needs.