Please note: this post is my personal interpretation of what has been going on with recent FTC rulings and should in no way serve as legal advice.
There have been plenty of crackdowns on online reviews over the years. Most of them have been for fake reviews or some other scammery. This latest ruling is the first (that I know of) to penalize a company for compensating or incentivizing for a review.
The car shipping company that was part of the ruling failed to meet FTC Guidelines in part by stating on their website “Google us ‘bbb top rated car shipping.’ You don’t have to believe us, our consumers say it all.” That statement in and of itself wasn’t wrong ,but the fact that they offered a $50 discount in exchange for these reviews is where they messed up. They also told customers they would be entered into a contest to win $100 in exchange for reviews.
In case you are unsure about what you can / cannot do in terms of online reviews, here is a basic summary:
The FTC made this nifty little video driving home the fact that you must disclose your relationship with a company before leaving a review. Example: if I go to my friends website (even if I am a customer) I must disclose “full disclosure” that I am a friend of his or hers within the review. They also make 3 main points within their revised guidelines (PDF):
This is not just limited to just online reviews. Blogs, guest posts, and press releases are included under this umbrella as well. Example: if I made a post on my website reviewing a hosting company and post a link to that website with a discount with an affiliate link, I must disclose that within the post. Many bloggers will simply include this in their terms of service or disclosure statement, but many of them don’t. In addition to the disclosure being present, it also must be prominent i.e. not buried deep within the website.
Lord and Taylor recently came under fire for not including #ad or #sponsored in an Instagram post which promoted some of their products.
When in doubt, disclose the fact that it is an ad.
I tend to agree with the FTC about this. If you asked a friend if a restaurant was good, and he/she said “its awesome” but later found out he was compensated for that review, wouldn’t you feel a bit scammed? I know I would. Yes, this does make getting reviews difficult but it keeps everyone honest.
Really, the only legal way to get reviews (while staying within TOS of Google, Yelp, whomever) is to wait for the reviews to come in on their own, and to make it as easy as possible for people to leave a review.
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