The growing importance and impact of reviews on business success and reputation compliance best practices can’t be overstated.
“Online reputation is quickly becoming the single biggest influencer of purchases in our economy”
Important tips to help ensure your business reputation compliance is intact.
Avoid The Urge To Suppress Negative Feedback
As more and more businesses race to compete by adding reviews to their social channels, some operators may be tempted to try and suppress negative reviews to improve their averages. There have been documented cases of businesses not publishing negative product reviews, or issuing “gag orders” to prevent customers from leaving negative reviews. This is not only immoral and dishonest… it’s actually illegal.
The Federal Trade Commission is tasked with protecting America’s consumers. One of the ways they do so is by prohibiting unfair business practices. With the impact of online reviews growing exponentially, the practice of prohibiting, limiting, or manipulating public reviews has fallen under the microscope of the Fed. Below is a summary of the Consumer Review Fairness Act, taken from www.FTC.gov.
Consumer Review Fairness Act: What Businesses Need to Know
The Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA) protects people’s ability to share their honest opinions about a business’s products, services, or conduct, in any forum, including social media. Is your company complying?
Contracts that prohibit honest reviews, or threaten legal action over them, harm people who rely on reviews when making their purchase decisions. But another group is also harmed when others try to squelch honest negative reviews: businesses that work hard to earn positive reviews.
CFRA Monitors All Business For Reputation Compliance
The Consumer Review Fairness Act was passed in response to reports that some businesses try to prevent people from giving honest reviews about products or services they received. Some companies put contract provisions in place, including in their online terms and conditions, that allowed them to sue or penalize consumers for posting negative reviews. Here are some basic tips for complying with the law.
What kind of reviews does the law protect?
The law protects a broad variety of honest consumer assessments, including online reviews, social media posts, uploaded photos, videos, etc. And it doesn’t just cover product reviews. It also applies to consumer evaluations of a company’s customer service.
What does the Consumer Review Fairness Act prohibit?
In summary, the Act makes it illegal for a company to use a contract provision that:
- Bars or restricts the ability of a person who is a party to that contract to review a company’s products, services, or conduct;
- Imposes a penalty or fee against someone who gives a review; or
- Requires people to give up their intellectual property rights in the content of their reviews.
What specific conduct is prohibited by the statute?
The Consumer Review Fairness Act makes it illegal for companies to include standardized provisions that threaten or penalize people for posting honest reviews. For example, in an online transaction, it would be illegal for a company to include a provision in its terms and conditions that prohibits or punishes negative reviews by customers. (The law doesn’t apply to employment contracts or agreements with independent contractors, however.)
What can a company do to protect itself from inappropriate or irrelevant content and ensure better Reputation Compliance?
The law says it’s OK to prohibit or remove a review that:
- Contains confidential or private information – for example, a person’s financial, medical, or personnel file information or a company’s trade secrets;
- Is libelous, harassing, abusive, obscene, vulgar, sexually explicit, or is inappropriate with respect to race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or other intrinsic characteristic;
- Is unrelated to the company’s products or services; or
- Is clearly false or misleading.
However, it’s unlikely that a consumer’s assessment or opinion with which you disagree meets the “clearly false or misleading” standard.
What’s the penalty for violating the Consumer Review Fairness Act?
Congress gave enforcement authority to the Federal Trade Commission and the state Attorneys General. The law specifies that a violation of the CRFA will be treated the same as violating an FTC rule defining an unfair or deceptive act or practice. This means that your company could be subject to financial penalties, as well as a federal court order.
To make sure your company is complying with the Consumer Review Fairness Act:
- Review your form contracts, including online terms and conditions; and
- Remove any provision that restricts people from sharing their honest reviews, penalizes those who do, or claims copyright over peoples’ reviews (even if you’ve never tried to enforce it or have no intention of enforcing it).
The wisest policy: Let people speak honestly about your products and their experience with your company.
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves! Encourage honest, transparent and authentic content from your customers and you’ll see the power it has to build your reputation quickly. Sure, you’ll get some negative reviews, but if you use those as an opportunity to either address a valid concern, or simply ask the reviewer if they may have left that review by mistake (a tactful response to an online troll), you’ll find that even a few occasional negative reviews handled the right way can be a benefit to your reputation.
Another area of focus by the Fed is with the Consumer Financial Protection Act. Specifically, the unfair and deceptive tactics that impede consumer reviews. The full bulletin can be found by Clicking Here.
The takeaway from this bulletin is that businesses should make every effort to avoid manipulating reviews to deceive customers into believing their products or services are better than the actual public reviews indicate. Always take the high road when it comes to Reputation Compliance.
Practices to avoid:
- Paying for reviews
- Having paid employees leave customer or product reviews
- Removing or suppressing negative reviews
- Practicing review gating (not allowing unhappy customers to easily leave public feedback)
- Threatening legal action for negative reviews
Though most of these rulings and bulletins refer to product reviews (think Amazon, e-commerce, etc.), not social channel business reviews, there are still good takeaways for businesses looking to build their reputation the right way. It seems old-fashioned values still apply to modern technology platforms and online reputation. Be honest, be authentic and public trust will follow!
The key takeaway here is – “Utilize a platform like Reviews Up to ensure better reputation compliance and help your business follow government guidelines for Consumer Protection Compliance”