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Marketing / Social media

Paid reviews and testimonials – what you need to know

Some businesses are getting creative (giving away free products and services) in exchange for testimonials and reviews. Are paid reviews and testimonials above board? Let’s find out.

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Online reviews and testimonials influence 71% of Australian buyers, according to Nielsen research. So they are incredibly important to selling your products and services.

But, you need to play within the rules.

Here is what you can and cannot do in Australia when it comes to soliciting testimonials and/or reviews.

Can you pay for testimonials and reviews?

Short answer: Yes, but it must be clearly disclosed.

One popular way to get your products in front of consumers is by using ‘social influencers’ who have cult-size followings to review and mention them. This can be a great endorsement and way to broadcast your fantastic business and products. Not everyone is aware, however, of the legal boundaries for doing so. And it can be a fine line.

"Unfortunately for Australia Post, the Instagram influencers failed to disclose the fact that they were paid. "

Take the 2014 Australia Post fiasco. (They paid influential Instagrammers to advertise their products.) Unfortunately for Australia Post, the Instagram influencers failed to disclose the fact that they were paid.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission requires businesses to be transparent about the testimonial or endorsement and how it is obtained. Otherwise, they will charge (and did!) penalties for any breach.

Can you offer ‘incentives’, free products or services?

Short answer: Yes, but only if the reviewers have truly used the product/services and both you and the reviewer disclose the fact that they were given an incentive to write the endorsement.

If you offer any incentive such as a free membership, trial, product or sample of your services in return for a testimonial or review, you should disclose this ‘prominently’ to all readers and potential buyers.

For example, if you offer a free trial of your product and receive a review from a customer (even if you did not ask for it), you need to disclose that the review resulted from the free trial.

The review must reflect this incentive provided otherwise it can be considered to be deceptive and misleading conduct and thus in breach of advertising standards.

Can you edit, tweak or delete a review?

Short answer: No.

The general point of testimonials and reviews is to give an accurate reflection of the use of the products, services or business itself. Any editing or non-inclusion of a review would not be considered a fair or accurate review.

In the Australia Post example, the Instagrammers deleted negative comments about Australia Post or their endorsement of the services on their account. The removal of the negative feedback was seen as providing a false and inaccurate image of the services and is in breach of Australian Consumer Law (ACL).

You cannot and should not edit or selectively decide what reviews and testimonials are on your site or included in your testimonials. You should include all reviews and testimonials: good, bad and indifferent, unedited or you may be at risk of misleading customers.

Can you write your own review or testimonial?

Short answer: No. A review is not impartial if it is written by the business itself or by a competitor.

It is also considered biased if it is written by your friends or family, even if they used and paid for your product or services.

Be transparent about any commercial relationships you may have with anyone posting a review or testimonial.

Basic rules to follow

Do NOT:

  • Ask family or friends to submit reviews or testimonials or anyone who has a personal connection with your business
  • Solicit or ask others to write reviews or testimonials about your or a competitor’s business if they have not tried the products or services
  • Edit, alter, remove any reviews or testimonials.

And if you decide to use ‘creative’ means to obtain reviews or testimonials, make sure you clearly disclose this, both on your website and on the review itself!

What is the most ‘creative’ way you have seen testimonials and reviews requested?

 

Vanessa Emilio

is a Practice Director, Lawyer, Founder and CEO of Legal123.com.au, a legal website business with easy-to-use, inexpensive legal templates, forms and agreements for everyday Australians as well as lots of useful information.

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