New FTC Guidelines May Mean Changes in How Brands Handle Online Reviews

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Online reviews are becoming increasingly important for marketing, but the federal agency’s new guidelines stress that brands must showcase factual and authentic feedback.

Consumers rely on online reviews to make purchasing decisions, and brands rely on consumers to leave reviews to help attract new customers. This critical cycle has existed for years, but changes in customer expectations spurred by the pandemic have forced brands to embrace online review strategies.

  • 57% of consumers say they would be ‘not very’ or “not at all” likely to use a business that doesn’t respond to reviews
  • 77% of consumers “always” or “regularly” read online reviews when browning for local businesses (up from 60% in 2020)

  • 67% of consumers will consider leaving a review after a positive experience with a business, while 40% will consider leaving one after a negative experience

Source: BrightLocal Consumer Review Survey, 2022

Many brands recognize the importance of online reviews, employing strategies to encourage customers to leave reviews and then showcasing the reviews on websites to help build brand trust and enhance user experience. However, with these strategies comes new FTC guidelines by which brands must abide.

Here are a few key highlights of the new FTC guidelines: 

  • Positive and negative feedback should be treated equally.

  • Brands should not employ practices that artificially inflate their number of reviews or overall ratings. For example, they should refrain from asking employees to leave reviews or seek reviews only from customers who leave positive feedback.

  • There should be practices in place to identify fake or deceptive reviews. Flagging options available from review platforms should not be misused to report honest negative feedback.

  • Reviews should be published authentically and transparently, giving no favor to positive reviews or doctoring of review content.

  • Your brand can be held responsible for SEO and reputation management firms that write fake reviews on your behalf.

Read the complete guidelines for soliciting and publishing reviews.

To help enforce these new policies, the FTC has issued letters to 10 review management companies, officially putting them on notice for “avoiding the collection or publication of online reviews.” Fashion Nova, an online fashion retailer, is also facing a $4.2 million settlement for FTC allegations that they knowingly blocked negative product reviews from appearing on their website.

While these new guidelines will help formalize transparent online review policies, they are not dissimilar to guidelines that already exist on many popular review platforms. For example, Google’s review policies prohibit fake reviews and conflicts of interest, and even offers advice on how to generate more authentic feedback. Yelp is more direct, implementing a strict do not ask policy for reviews.

If you currently have a review strategy in place, it’s worth reviewing the guidelines and policies for each platform and from the FTC to ensure your strategy adheres to the rules. However, it may be beneficial to seek assistance. Smith helps several brands employ online review strategies that promote honest consumer feedback, increase the number of reviews and ultimately foster trust among potential new customers.

If you have an existing review strategy you would like to reevaluate, or you’re interested in a review strategy that aligns with the FTC guidelines, contact Smith to learn about our SEO services.