They seem innocent enough. Signs in local business windows offering a free drink or a few bucks off your purchase in exchange for a review. Customers get a little something extra and you help boost your visibility online. Reciprocity is a great thing, right? Not if we are talking about online reviews.
In 2009, the Federal Trade Commission published a set of guidelines regarding Truth in Advertising, which states that any company must disclose if they have compensated people giving online testimonials or endorsements in any way.
While Yelp and Google clearly state in their Terms of Service that giving coupons or incentives for reviews is a violation of those terms, many practices still think that this isn’t really an issue as long as the coupon is for a nominal amount or the reviews aren’t required to be positive in order to receive the incentive.
In recent years, multiple settlements involving the FTC have helped to clarify how this application works regarding online reviews and underlines the fact that incentivizing reviews is illegal.
For example, in 2013, the Attorney General fined 19 companies in New York for buying, faking or incentivizing reviews, ordering them to pay a collective $350,000 in fines. Blumenthal of localu.org mentions: “An under-reported aspect of the settlement was a $10,000 fine levied on a tooth-whitening company in New York City that had been offering a no-strings-attached $10 coupon off a future whitening in return for any review, good or bad. I spoke with the owner of the company and, while he thought what he was doing was OK, the cost of a defense was substantial AND the NY State Attorney General had targeted him so his chances of prevailing, even at great cost were small.”
As recently as February 27, 2015, the FTC entered a settlement with a car shipment broker based in Georgia who was offering discounts and incentives for their online reviews. This company had over 500 reviews on Google+. There was no monetary settlement but company was forced to stop incentivizing reviews and must agree to follow that cease and desist order for the next 20 years.
If you or employees in your practice are offering anything at all in exchange for reviews, you are violating the law and run the risk of fines or litigation from the FTC. It’s not worth it.
Let your incentive be great customer service and excellent care. This will speak volumes and your patients will be happy to let you know about their experience with your practice.