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Should you ever incentivise your reviews?

5 minute read

carrots growing

Received wisdom suggests incentivising reviews is bad. It can be. Today, though, I’ll be looking at how making it worth someone’s while to leave a review can be a valid tactic.

Why reviews?

If you have a product or service that helps people, then as many people as possible need to know that help is out there. And customer reviews play a massive part in spreading the word. In fact, they’re almost as strong an influence as a friend telling you they’ve had a good experience, and think you would also enjoy the same.

Recent statistics back this up, and highlight the importance of customer reviews in winning and keeping business.

  • 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation
  • 54% of people visit a company’s website after reading positive reviews
  • 74% of people trust local businesses more after reading positive reviews
  • 58% of people believe the ‘star rating’ is the most important metric to them

Let’s zoom in on that first statistic: 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.

Why is this? Well, detailed and balanced feedback on a product or service tends to inspire trust, helping people to make informed decisions on new purchases.

To take advantage of the potential reviews have to increase trust, loyalty, and sales, you want to join the conversation people are having about your business online. And you need to make it really simple for a customer to express their view, no matter if it’s good or bad.

So, just remember, if you don’t have a friend to ask, then you’re going to read reviews.

Which is amazing – reviews are that powerful.

Fake reviews

What about fake or paid reviews? Be aware of those people who game the system! The big companies are doing all they can to stamp out fake and paid reviews, and at the moment, a fair amount of the reviews we read are fakes. And fake reviews are the dark side of incentivising.

A fake review has to be paid for. In money or sweat equity. There is an incentive for the person posting a negative or fake review. In the same way, the business that tells customers if they “leave a positive review, they eat for free” are running the same risks as those out to sabotage competitors with negative reviews. And the point is, there’s no need to do this at all because there is plenty you can do right now to get more willing customers to volunteer an honest review – all without breaking any rules.

The trick, then, to maximising customer reviews is to know the size and type of the incentive needed to nudge the customer into leaving a review. If you’re wondering what your business can do to incentivise, then it’s time to get creative.

How to incentivise the right way

Let’s look at how restaurants incentivise people to leave reviews. Some forward-thinking eateries now supply diners with an Instagram kit so people can nail their #foodporn photos.

The free kits contain a portable camera light, a wide-angle lens, a multi-device charger, and a selfie stick for overhead table shots. The kits are intended to provide seasoned Instagrammers with everything they need to capture the perfect Instagram shot.

How do other brands incentivise?

A much more commonplace (if less flashy) approach is for businesses to offer discounts and coupon codes for writing a review. This can be extended to a competition or the award of a gift card.

You can also encourage people to ‘check in’ on social media when they’re in your business by offering an incentive for a tagged check-in and feedback, such as a free product or code to use at the tills.

If offering all your customers who leave a review a discount or free product seems a little daunting for your small business, you could adopt a monthly competition model, entering those who leave you a review the chance to win a monthly prize draw.

What can you do in your business today to gain a review without incentising?

If incentising is something your business can only afford to do sporadically, or you’d prefer to try and gain reviews more organically alongside incentivising campaigns, there’s lots you can do. Firstly, there are the basics, like creating as many spaces online for people to find you when they search. Then, think about timing. Ask for a review at the right time, right after a purchase.

Then there is how you ask. Let’s say someone has purchased your product or service. You then send them an email asking them if they are happy with the service they received. Most people reading those emails are thinking, “How long is this going to take me? I was happy with the service, but it’s all a bit fussy to leave a comment…”

So what if you changed that experience for them, and do what Netflix do? Offer people the choice of a thumbs up and thumbs down button. Then send people who clicked either the thumbs up or down button a customer review form, as they are far more likely to fill it out than those who did not click as they’ve already shown interest in engaging with you.

Let’s say you want more Instagram action but you don’t want to shell out on Instagram lighting and kits for each table. What if you encouraged your customers to message you through Instagram during the meal? Message us an empty glass and we’ll bring you another drink, that type of idea? This extra interaction could lead to more social tags and recommendations as customers are already on the platform, so could be more likely to share the experience there and then with their followers.

Think about how you could phrase the questions you ask on the review form. Move away from the “Rate your enjoyment level out of ten” questions, and toward the ‘Describe the best, most entertaining part about your visit today.’ Or, ‘Your feedback is vital so we can make your next purchase even easier.’

If you want to dig really deep into this subject then this Harvard Business Review offers some great insights.

And when the reviews do start flowing in, then it’s time to make sense of them.

The key to understanding what the customer is saying all begins with accepting that in every reviewers mind, their comments are honest, well reasoned, and, most likely, improving the experience for the next loyal customer, even though his or her review might be titled:

“Hoping it would be crap, her kindle would slip out, and electrocute her”

Incentivise your reviews but do it the right way

There’s little doubt if you want someone to do something for you, making it worth their while increases the chances they’ll comply. Reviews are no different.

However, as with any other aspect of business, you should focus on incentivising reviews the right way.  

Whether you choose to go all-in like the restaurants encouraging posts on Instagram or just opt for a simple star rating system to make it easier for users to leave reviews, offering a carrot makes the customer more likely to take the time to write a review.

With so much trust invested in online recommendations, incentivising your reviews could yield great returns on a very modest investment. 

Learn how to gather and showcase online reviews for your business with this ultimate online guide. 

Robin a passionate and versatile copywriter, journalist and blogger with over eight years’ experience crafting copy for some of the world’s leading brands, including Dove, Marmite, British Gas, ASDA and Thomas Cook. Robin also writes about his experiences of being a stay-at-home dad as Dandy Dad and is a regular contributor to The Guardian, GQ, and The Huffington Post.

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