How do you reward testimonials ethically?

24 replies
Whenever i get a new offline client, I would say 9 times out of ten, they do not have any testimonials on their site, or in any of their marketing materials.

What would be an ethical way(s) of going about getting testimonials from their clients?
#ethicallay #reward #testimonials
  • Profile picture of the author TestiVar
    Ask for feedback after you deliver a product or perform a service.

    Negative feedback helps you improve your product or service.

    Positive feedback is a testimonial.

    You can't "reward" testimonials ethically. It is against the law to reward for testimonials without disclosing it. Once you disclose that the testimonials are just paid for advertisements -- they are worthless as testimonials.
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  • Profile picture of the author WhiteDove
    Reviews must not violate the Second Life Terms of Service or Marketplace Listing Guidelines in any way.
    This includes, but is not limited to, the following:
    • Reviews should be appropriate to the maturity rating of the listed item.
    • Reviews should not be left by the seller of that item, whether with the selling account or an alt account.
    • Reviews should not be written for pay, or for other rewards or compensation unless both positive and negative reviews are rewarded
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    • Profile picture of the author marciayudkin
      You can't "reward" testimonials ethically. It is against the law to reward for testimonials without disclosing it. Once you disclose that the testimonials are just paid for advertisements -- they are worthless as testimonials.
      You CAN reward people for providing feedback, whether it is positive, negative or neutral. You can say, for example, everyone who fills out this feedback survey will be entered in a drawing for a new whatever. In this way you don't have to disclose the reward because the reward is not for saying something nice that can be quoted - it is for responding.

      I am not a lawyer, so this is only my own personal understanding of the law, of course.

      Marcia Yudkin
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      • Profile picture of the author TestiVar
        Originally Posted by marciayudkin View Post

        You CAN reward people for providing feedback, whether it is positive, negative or neutral. You can say, for example, everyone who fills out this feedback survey will be entered in a drawing for a new whatever. In this way you don't have to disclose the reward because the reward is not for saying something nice that can be quoted - it is for responding.
        What you are describing is "laundering" your reward for testimonials. It is an attempt to make it legal without disclosure by trying to distance the reward from the testimonial.

        Who knows if it is legal? Even an attorney would probably balk at trying to determine if your money laundering attempt successfully skirts the law.

        It is definitely not ethical though. The OP was asking about how to ethically reward testimonials. That is not possible without disclosure. Once you disclose that you paid for your testimonials, they are worthless.
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        • Profile picture of the author Paul Myers
          That is not possible without disclosure. Once you disclose that you paid for your testimonials, they are worthless.
          The first part is certainly true. (I'd say legal/advisable, rather than possible, but I think we'd have the same intent either way.) In a situation like Marcia describes, the second might not have to be.

          Example: "In order to further improve the product, I offered early customers a little thank you gift for giving me their feedback. Good, bad, or ugly, I wanted to know what they thought.

          I used the suggestions to make the product even better. And here are what some of my customers had to say about that earlier version..."

          I'm not a lawyer, but that looks like an honest disclosure to me. Assuming, of course, that's how it actually went down.


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          • Profile picture of the author TestiVar
            Originally Posted by Paul Myers View Post

            I'm not a lawyer, but that looks like an honest disclosure to me. Assuming, of course, that's how it actually went down.
            That does look like a much more effective laundering attempt. If that's the way it went down, then it is an honest disclosure by definition.

            That form of disclosure doesn't sound like it would turn me off from the testimonials, but we always have to be careful about pretending to be our own ideal customer.

            Maybe you should be a lawyer.

            Sorry. That wasn't a nice thing to say.

            I would still shy away from any tampering with testimonials or testimonial gathering processes in any way whatsoever in today's climate. Not only does the FTC have a hard-on for incentivized or fake testimonials -- they are also not nearly as credible as they once were due to all of the abuse.

            I have seen testimonials disappear from most of our client's sites in split test campaigns. The only time they seem to stick around after a split test seems to be when they are kinda of off to the side and no attention is called to them. That was NEVER true five years ago. Testimonials were EVERYTHING back then. Now they are often a liability.

            With that being the case -- why even try to seek them at all, much less incentivize that search? If you are delivering a decent product or performing a nice service, the testimonials will come naturally.
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            • Profile picture of the author Paul Myers
              Originally Posted by TestiVar View Post

              Maybe you should be a lawyer.

              Sorry. That wasn't a nice thing to say.
              Worse things have been said to me. Not yet today, but it's early.
              With that being the case -- why even try to seek them at all, much less incentivize that search? If you are delivering a decent product or performing a nice service, the testimonials will come naturally.
              True. I was just offering a thought on a way to do it that seems to me to be ethically sound and transparent to the customer, while not killing sales.


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              • Profile picture of the author TestiVar
                Originally Posted by Paul Myers View Post

                I was just offering a thought on a way to do it that seems to me to be ethically sound and transparent to the customer, while not killing sales.
                And I was just trying to find a tongue-in-cheek way of saying that I was very impressed with your result. Ethical. Check. Transparent. Check. Not killing sales. Probably check.

                It works.
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  • Profile picture of the author Ben Gordon
    Think creatively. Say the offline business is a clothing shop. Tell them that they'll receive $5 off their next purchase if they leave feedback on your website. Not only will this bring you testimonials and make the client happy, but the business will also be happy because, obviously, there's more activity in their shop.
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  • Profile picture of the author Paul Myers
    Copy rewrite:

    "In order to further improve the product, I offered early customers a little thank you gift for giving me their feedback. Good, bad, or ugly, I wanted to know what they thought.

    First, here's what some of those folks thought of the first version..."

    [List the testimonials, being careful not to use specific results unless you have the data to document that they're "typical." Then say something like...]

    "There was a little ugly in there, too. Some things folks thought needed improving. Based on those helpful suggestions, I've added..."

    [List the upgrades you've made to the product.]

    ---- 8< ---- end rewrite ----

    Turns the feedback process into a selling point, showing that you're interested in what your customers have to say, and that you support and improve your product. Again, assuming that's how it went down.

    If you have the customer's satisfaction in mind, it's almost always possible to turn the plain truth into a selling point, without needing to break laws or cross any ethical boundaries.


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  • Profile picture of the author Cataclysm1987
    You could offer a rebate on services delivered in exchange for a testimonial, or additional free services or bonuses.

    Then just disclose this somewhere on the fine print of your website so the FTC won't kill you.
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    • Profile picture of the author Paul Myers
      Eric,
      Then just disclose this somewhere on the fine print of your website so the FTC won't kill you.
      I'd be really careful about relying on fine print. Regulators look at the overall impression created in the mind of a typical prospect more than they do the legalese. Or so I'm told.

      Put it right out there, where it's obvious and hard to miss.


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    • Profile picture of the author TestiVar
      Originally Posted by Cataclysm1987 View Post

      You could offer a rebate on services delivered in exchange for a testimonial, or additional free services or bonuses.

      Then just disclose this somewhere on the fine print of your website so the FTC won't kill you.
      The FTC likes "fine print" even less than "incentivized testimonials."

      Disclosures need to be made in a similar color, font and style. That's not a quote, but that is the essence of their statements.

      Of course the question was "ethically." Once again, we seem to be skirting the bounds of right and wrong -- hiding what we are doing. That is, by definition, acting in a less than ethical way.

      In this case, the end doesn't even justify the means. Testimonials simply aren't as valuable as they once were due to all of the kinds of abuse and laundering of "rewards" that you and others are proposing. Very few potential buyers trust testimonials in any appreciable way anymore.
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  • Profile picture of the author Exel
    Legally it could be classified as unfair competition, but it is definitely common practice.

    For example, I receive mails occasionally from certain web stores asking me to leave
    feedback on some ratings and reviews sites in exchange for gift cards. They are very
    clear that they require positive feedback and five star rating.
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    • Profile picture of the author TestiVar
      Originally Posted by Exel View Post

      Legally it could be classified as unfair competition, but it is definitely common practice.

      For example, I receive mails occasionally from certain web stores asking me to leave
      feedback on some ratings and reviews sites in exchange for gift cards. They are very
      clear that they require positive feedback and five star rating.
      Sad, but true. That is probably the reason the FTC is breathing down everyone's back.

      I occasionally get customers who propose a quid-pro-quo for a testimonial. They want a "review" copy or a "free" service in exchange for a positive testimonial.

      I tell them that what they are proposing is illegal (without disclosure and worthless with disclosure) and that we just don't do it. We wouldn't do it if it was legal.

      They often respond with examples of all of the places that do it. They claim it is common practice. The argument is "everyone is doing it."

      Not everyone.
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      • Profile picture of the author Paul Myers
        Ethical. Check. Transparent. Check. Not killing sales. Probably check.
        The thing that always puzzles me is that, once you think about the spirit of the law and the customer's best interests, and quit trying to beat the system, that sort of idea becomes obvious. And yet, all sorts of very smart, honest people miss it.

        Weird critters, these humans.


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        • Profile picture of the author Paul Myers
          Disclosures need to be made in a similar color, font and style. That's not a quote, but that is the essence of their statements.
          Ah. When I hear "fine print," I always think of just "legalese," not actual tiny print.

          I've warned people quite a few times over the years about trying to hide disclaimers. It's like putting a great big bullseye on your head. "If he's trying to hide this, there must be a reason."

          The most idiotic is the business of putting the disclaimer at the bottom of the page in print so pale it's impossible to read without pasting it into a text editor. Sometimes it is almost invisible against the background.

          Some genius came up with that "idea" a few years ago, and I still see people doing it occasionally.

          *[thwack! says the clue-by-four!]*


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  • Profile picture of the author Jason Z
    One of the difficult things with whether or not to incentivize testimonials, and the ethical nature of it is this: People are lazy and even if they love a service they rarely feel compelled to do a testimonial.

    I'm working on a project for a travel company that has customers that have loved their service and have promised testimonials, but they just sit on them forever because they apparently don't have time to write a couple sentences.

    So we are looking at travel coupons or something as a way to get them motivated.

    Now, I don't like the idea of saying if you give us a 5 star review I'll give you a coupon. But if you have someone who says upfront that they liked a service and were happy, then why not tell those people you'll give them a coupon for a testimonial.

    That way you're not bribing anyone into false reviews, you're just motivated lazy reviewers who already like the service, but aren't making time to leave a testimonial.
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    • Profile picture of the author TestiVar
      Originally Posted by Jason Z View Post

      But if you have someone who says upfront that they liked a service and were happy, then why not tell those people you'll give them a coupon for a testimonial.
      I thought we already covered that. Why not? Here are a few good reasons:

      1) It is illegal.

      2) It is unethical.

      3) The FTC has taken 100% of assets of companies who have done that.

      4) You might go to jail.

      5) It sends the message to your customers that you aren't very ethical. That attracts the wrong kinds of customers and the wrong behaviors for existing customers. At the very least, you will see your refund and chargeback rate increase.

      There are probably a dozen other reasons. You don't have to think of all of them if you are committed to following the law and running an ethical business. You do have to think about all of them and prepare for the consequences if you choose to skirt the law and not follow the rules of common decency when you run your business.
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  • Profile picture of the author WarriorDiscount
    give him a discount in his next payment
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  • Profile picture of the author marketingva
    I have a client who is a hypnotherapist. She had no reviews on local listing sites and wanted to know how to get some. I told her to ask. In her next newsletter she asked that if anyone wanted to post a review they could do so at this URL address. She got a couple dozen reviews almost overnight simply by asking.

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    • Originally Posted by marketingva View Post

      I have a client who is a hypnotherapist. She had no reviews on local listing sites and wanted to know how to get some. I told her to ask. In her next newsletter she asked that if anyone wanted to post a review they could do so at this URL address. She got a couple dozen reviews almost overnight simply by asking.

      Bonnie
      This is the way it should be done. Ask, and make it easy for people to follow through.

      I also want to add that I see a lot of people trying to get reviews for their Google Places listing, and few pay attention to the fact that Google specifically prohibits businesses from offering any sort of incentive for reviews. The chances of getting caught are pretty slim, but I agree with the above statement that operating in this way makes you and/or the business look very unethical.
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