Since online reviews play an increasingly larger role in the decision-making process of consumers, it is very critical that they are reliable.
Today, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) published a report about online reviews in the Dutch consumer market, concluding that this reliability might not be at stake yet, but we do need to increase transparency in online reviews.
Reviews becoming marketing tools
As the ACM study reveals, fake reviews on a larger scale have not been detected yet, but pitfalls await around the corner. Online reviews are not only used to provide consumers and brands with valuable feedback, they have also become an increasingly popular part of digital marketing campaigns. And consumers know it. They are, as it turns out, becoming more aware of the fact the reviews can also be fake. We believe this is one of the reasons why negative reviews can turn out positive for companies: consumers are developing a sixth sense for reviews that are just too good to be true.
New rules for transparency
"Companies more and more often employ consumers to write reviews for a remuneration. Such reviews are basically advertisements. That is allowed, but this should be made clear to consumers", ACM says. To maintain the quality and reliability of online reviews in the Netherlands, ACM calls for increased transparency, which should be taken seriously by all parties that are involved in the aggregation, publication, and management of online reviews.
For those companies, ACM has set up some rules to follow:
- Inform consumers on how reviews are aggregated and presented;
- Treat positive and negative reviews equally as much as possible;
- Publish reviews as soon as possible. This should be done, in any case, on the date of publication and not on the date of writing. If the review that was written earlier is published on a later date but contains the date of writing, it will not end up at the top of the search results, and would thus be difficult to find;
- Be transparent about the circumstances in which the reviews were written, such as ‘reviewers were allowed to test this product for free’, ‘the reviewer received a remuneration for writing this review’, or ‘this review was edited after deliberation with the company’, etc.
We totally agree with ACM!
Stars and Stories has based it's whole business strategy on the importance of honest, authentic reviews. It's our number one belief that online reviews should not be incentivized. We have even set up our Authenticity Program this year, to contribute to a fair and transparent marketplace. This not only provides the reviewers in our community with ethical guidelines, but it also provides our company and employees with a code of conduct.
To give you some highlights:
Honest reviews - We don’t promise our clients positive reviews, only honest reviews.
No incentives - We communicate clearly that reviewers can experience the product in exchange for their honest opinion. We always disclose upfront that they cannot keep the product.
Disclaimers - Although not every company chooses to do so, we always advise our clients to make use of disclaimers in the reviews.
Currently we are doing research on the effects of disclaimers in online reviews, together with Professor Lotte Willemsen from the University of Applied Sciences Utrecht. If you're interested in receiving a copy once the report has been finished, just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.