Marketers love and fear user-generated content (UGC). UGC is a powerful component of any business’s digital marketing strategy and provides marketers with the most influential tactic for persuasion — the voice of customers. However, marketers do have little control over the content of UGC, specifically, ratings and reviews.
Businesses that harness the power of UGC reap the benefits; ninety percent of consumers say user-generated content influences their purchases, and 53 percent say UGC is “extremely influential” or “very influential.” The power of online reviews is undeniable, but there is concern — among review platforms and users alike — over ethical practices for garnering more reviews. Consequently, industry-leading review platforms are taking steps to incentivize authentic reviews that customers can trust.
Below, learn about three programs from industry-leading review sites that are designed to incentivize real reviews, as opposed to positive/negative reviews that were written as a result of bias or solicitation.
Google Local Guides
As Google expands the capabilities of Google My Business and Google Maps, the company has also given users the ability to provide much more context to their reviews than a text block and star-rating. Google introduced the Local Guides program four years ago as a way to identify users who have “on-the-ground expertise and a commitment to sharing everyday experiences that inform real-time decisions across the globe.” The program has since grown to include 60 million Local Guides.
Local Guides contribute to Google Q&A, share photos, write reviews, and update Google Maps listings for places and businesses. Google will sometimes request specific content from Local Guides, such as pictures of food from local restaurants. Local Guides are rewarded for their contributions with points, status-levels, and in some cases, gifts. Google is expanding the program, and recently incentivized Local Guides to create public lists, such as, “My Favorite Places,” and “Places I Want to Go.”
The more contributions they share, the higher Local Guides can rise up Google’s rankings from levels 1 to 10. High-ranking Local Guides receive special gifts from Google, including everything from 100GB of storage space to customized socks. Google also gives Local Guides early-access to new technologies, such as augmented reality walking directions within Google Maps.
Google has turned reviews into a game for Local Guides — users strive to achieve more points, or earn additional badges. However, if a Local Guide’s review is reported as fake, Google will penalize that user by banning them from the program. So, Google is not using these incentives to encourage positive reviews; rather, they are incentivizing authentic reviews from verified Local Guides.
Yelp Elite is a status awarded to the most active users of the review platform. To obtain this designation, you must write at least 40 quality reviews per year, have a detailed profile on Yelp, and continually interact with other members of the Yelp community. Once users achieve this level of activity, they can either nominate themselves for Elite status or be nominated by another Yelp user. Their profile is reviewed by an actual Yelp employee, who has to approve the addition of the coveted “Elite” badge to the user’s profile.
Since Elite status is only given to users who have been vetted by a real Yelp employee, it’s not easy for users to con their way into Yelp Elite. The Elite badge is also only good for one year, after which the user can re-apply for the program.
Marketers can leverage Yelp Elite by reaching out directly to Elite members and inviting them into the business location, or hosting an “Elite Event” open only to Elite Yelpers.
Verified Purchases on Amazon
Customer reviews are a serious matter on Amazon. In fact, members of Congress recently wrote a letter to Jeff Bezos asking what he planned to do about fraudulent reviews.
Amazon makes an effort to verify authentic reviews using the ‘Verified Purchase” badge. According to Amazon, this tag on a review means, “we’ve verified that the person writing the review purchased the product at Amazon and didn’t receive the product at a deep discount.” Amazon also updated their review algorithm to give weight to reviews with the ‘Verified Purchase’ tag. A 5-star review with a ‘Verified Purchase’ tag affects a product’s rating more than a 5-star review from an unverified customer.
While Amazon has tried to use the ‘Verified Purchase’ tag to identify authentic reviews, some outlets are reporting that this system is easily corrupted. The Verified Purchase program isn’t foolproof, but it is a step in the right direction in Amazon’s efforts to ensure review authenticity.
All marketers want more reviews, but since each review platform has strict guidelines against incentivizing users for reviews, best practices must always be considered. Here are some tips that can help increase your volume of reviews across all major networks:
- Add review badges to your site to make leaving reviews easy and accessible.
- Send a personalized email after a purchase or other customer engagement.
- Respond to all reviews.
- Ask for more information on negative reviews to determine the cause behind the negative sentiment.
While platforms are offering incentives for authentic reviews, none of the programs mentioned in this article are foolproof. The challenges that come with online anonymity may prevent review platforms from ever eliminating all fake reviews, but each of these programs is a positive step towards review authenticity.
Olivia Starr is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at SOCi.