Everything You Need to Know About Incentivized Reviews

Trustmary teamTrustmary team
Last edited: June 12th, 2024
bearded man suspicious about reviews

“Incentivized reviews” are any kind of user reviews that are rewarded or incentivized by businesses. There is a debate over the trustworthiness of this kind of review, and whether brands should use them in their strategy. 

On the one hand, getting organic positive reviews is difficult unless you actively ask people to do so, on the other, crossing the boundaries in incentivizing reviews could get you in trouble. And that’s not just about your brand’s reputation but also legal issues. 

To help you make up your mind about incentivized reviews, we’re explaining what incentivized reviews are, whether they are legal or illegal, what benefits they offer, what is their dark side, and whether you should use them in your reputation management strategy.  

What are incentivized reviews?

Incentivized reviews refer to any user-generated product feedback or review that a brand rewards. 

Normally, people forget to review your product, or are reluctant to do so on their own. Offering incentives is a great way to prompt customers to take action. 

When offered the right incentives, customers put effort into writing detailed snippets of product usage and its benefits, so these reviews are often of higher quality and coherence than organic ones. 

It’s also a win-win for you and your customers. You get social proof for your offerings, and the customers get recognition for their feedback in the form of incentives. 

The incentives could be anything from a discount code, a voucher, or a free product, depending on your audience, budget, and operations. 

For example, Living Spaces offers customers a chance to earn a $500 promotional card in exchange for pictures of their furniture and decor.  

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Should you incentivize reviews?

Yes! Incentivized reviews can offer you these benefits:

  • build trust and confidence in potential customers for your products
  • improve product visibility in search results
  • create a community of loyal customers
  • improve your brand reputation
  • increase the number of reviews by each reviewer on average

Here’s an example of a detailed and honest but incentivized review.

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But there’s a catch! 

Incentivized reviews are a gamble. If your customers are sharing reviews only to earn some rewards, their opinions might be biased, and you’ll end up displaying fake content to your visitors. 

It’s a common practice among brands to manipulate customers into sharing only positive reviews in exchange for incentives. That’s one reason why incentivized reviews can backfire and harm your brand’s reputation. 

Such reviews also raise a significant concern for customers. 37% of customers think a review is fake if the product has been praised over the top. It loses its authenticity, making potential customers lose trust in your brand. 

Are incentivized reviews illegal?

There’s no straightforward answer to this question! The legality of incentivized reviews depends upon the review platform and the place where you live. 

For example, review aggregators like Yelp stopped entertaining incentivized reviews. Why? Because 28% of customers look out for incentivized reviews, and 71% won’t visit a business anymore with fake or compensated reviews.

And then some brands resort to manipulating customers to leave positive reviews. 

Union Street Guest House, a hotel in Hudson, New York, charged the wedding parties $500 for every negative review they put on review websites, especially Yelp. 

When the hotel was called out for its ridiculous policy, they removed the fine part. They even claimed the whole thing as “a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding many years ago.”

Considering the stunts pulled out by brands in the name of incentives, the Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA) was passed. The act prohibits any businesses that try to threaten or penalize customers for writing honest or negative reviews. 

If any company/brand tries to violate CRFA, it would mean violating (Federal Trade Commission) FTC rules, and subjecting itself to financial penalties. 

The dark side of incentivized reviews

75% of customers are concerned about fake online reviews and don’t trust the brands enough to confirm their authenticity. 

But how do these customers identify fake reviews? 

There’s no hard-and-fast rule to pinpoint them, but some activities malign the intent behind incentivized reviews.

1. Profit-driven individuals don’t care about quality

Reviewer communities often host customers that only care about earning rewards instead of sharing their experiences. Such practices result in low-quality reviews that lack reality and substance. 

For example, these 4 reviews about a “cooking thermometer” reek of AI-generated content! 

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2. People stop reviewing after a while

Reviewers often stop writing reviews when they’ve reached an incentive program’s monetary threshold. They are no longer interested in writing reviews because the program cannot offer them more money. 

When the number of such reviewers increases on the platform, you can observe a sudden decline in the reviews. It makes potential customers suspicious about their authenticity.   

3. The badge “incentivized” is often misunderstood

Incentivized reviews already have a bad reputation among review readers. Readers don’t trust these reviews because they already think, “Incentivized reviews are fake or partial.”

So, even if the review is honest about a free sample, potential customers tend to skip it. 

4. Internal and external inconsistencies are hard to ignore

Internal contradictions in online reviews occur when the numerical ratings and written sentiments don’t match. Either the numerical ratings are too high, and the written text says otherwise or the written text is all positive, but the ratings tell a different story. 

External inconsistency is when there’s a huge gap between organic and incentivized reviews. Customers are left confused and have a feeling of distrust towards the brand when both reviews are poles apart. 

A Redditor expresses his concern over the extreme gap between the number of organic and incentivized reviews. There’s no way they could trust online reviews now.  

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Guidelines for Incentivized Reviews

Review aggregator platforms usually don’t entertain incentivized reviews, especially when the incentives are monetary. But when you’re careful about the type of incentives to be offered, your brand stands a chance. 

Here are some must-follow guidelines from the most popular review aggregator platforms. 

Google

Google doesn’t encourage incentivizing customers for positive feedback. But you can offer incentives for simply dropping a review (an honest opinion) on your products/services.

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The same applies to Google Play reviews.

Amazon

Amazon has strictly prohibited incentivized reviews — irrespective of the incentive type — unless the reviews are part of the Amazon Vine Program.

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Luckily, using Trustmary is a great way to get more Amazon reviews for your product and brand.

Yelp

Yelp has strict prohibitions for incentivized reviews or offering payments in exchange for positive reviews and specific star ratings. 

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TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor prohibits all types of incentivized reviews — whether incentives are monetary or non-monetary. 

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How to Manage Customer Reviews the Right Way

Incentivized reviews can bring you more conversions and drive the right traffic to your website if used carefully.

Here are some best practices to create an impactful and risk-free incentivized review campaign.

1. Steer clear from monetary incentives

Paid reviews are prohibited on almost all review platforms and are more likely to be dishonest. So instead of payments, offer non-monetary incentives like

  • Discount codes,
  • Free products,
  • Early access to new products,
  • Gift cards,
  • Charitable donations,
  • Bonuses with purchases,
  • Free upgrades

Here’s how G2 promises charitable donations as incentives to the reviewers. G2 Gives generates a $10 donation for every review.

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Especially if you are in the B2B field, donations are a great way of incentivizing feedback.

It’s also a tactic that we at Trustmary like to use.

2. Request an honest review and label it

Inform your customers about the incentives you offer for reviews. You could start with repeat customers because they’re more likely to submit reviews. If you’re using an email newsletter software tool for managing customer communications, it’s pretty easy to identify repeat customers. It’s important to ask them to submit their honest reviews rather than just positive reviews. 

Here’s how Snapdeal lets its customers review their purchases in exchange for a chance to win a $2000 reward. It doesn’t ask them to leave a positive, just a review.

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Once you get the reviews, label them “Incentivized” when posting them on your website. It complies with FTC guidelines and prevents any mishaps in the future. 

3. Use a ‘trust signal’ 

Trust signals, or trust badges, are symbols from third-party websites or platforms that customers believe are trustworthy. They could be a simple checkmark or lock that signifies a particular review is verified and is authentic. 

73% of customers have confidence in a trust signal when displayed with a review. Even 78% of brands are ready to add one to their website if the customers trust it.  

Here’s a trust badge from Capterra, signifying the software is rated as the best in ease of use. 

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4. Don’t delete negative reviews; instead, respond to them

90% of consumers are moderately to extremely influenced over a business’s response to customer reviews. So, if you think of deleting negative views from incentivized customers, you’re in big trouble! 

Instead of wiping off negative reviews, address customer concerns. Take responsibility for the issue and offer help to fix it. It builds customer connection and trust among potential customers towards both your product, and your reviews. 

Here’s a ready-to-use template for you to respond to negative reviews.

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5. Prioritize video reviews over text

Video reviews can increase the trustworthiness of your reviews. Customers are already skeptical about incentivized reviews. But they’re more likely to trust them when they see a live product or service demonstration. 

To measure the effectiveness of video reviews, Satokausikalenteri created two review campaigns: one based on text reviews and the other based on text and video reviews combined. And they conducted an A/B test using Trustmary’s widgets on both campaigns. The results show that using videos alongside text reviews increased their conversion rate by 20% compared to when they only used text reviews. 

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6. Partner with a review collecting tool

Review collection tools — like Trustmary — help you collect, display, and analyze reviews across all the platforms. These tools ensure potential customers trust your website by showcasing fresh and authentic customer reviews

Trustmary is the best customer feedback tool, and it can help you create niche-specific incentivized review campaigns for your website.

From collecting customer feedback to showcasing it in customized widgets on your website, Trustmary has your back!

The platform has helped multiple businesses skyrocket their sales and manage their online reputation with its services. 

Trustmary has helped multiple businesses skyrocket their sales and manage their online reputation with its services. 

Finally: 

Review incentives are amazing for moving customers to action and leave reviews. However, they come with some risks. Customers can tell if a review is authentic or simply published for the sake of the rewards. 

To deal with this issue, review platforms have their own guidelines for incentivized reviews. Some might rule out incentivized reviews completely, others might have some conditions for displaying them. 

In this article, we explained the dark side of incentivized reviews and how they could have a negative impact on your reputation. We also went into detail on how you should do incentivized reviews the right way in order to increase their trustworthiness and effectiveness.

Make sure to use our guide in your next campaign, and if you’re publishing reviews on third-party platforms, definitely spend some time to review their guidelines on incentivized reviews. 

Incentivized reviews Q&A

What are incentivized reviews? 

Incentivized reviews are any kind of user-generated product or service review that are rewarded in any way by a brand. Incentivized reviews stand in contrast with organic reviews that are left by customers of their own volition and without any incentives.  

Are incentivized reviews illegal? 

Unless you prohibit or bar customers from leaving honest reviews, using incentivized reviews is not illegal. Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA) in the US prohibits brands from restricting “ability of a person who is a party to that contract to review a company’s products, services, or conduct”, imposing “a penalty or fee against someone who gives a review”, or requiring “people to give up their intellectual property rights in the content of their reviews.” 

How can you incentivize reviews? 

The best way is to offer non-monetary rewards to incentivize honest (not just positive) reviews: discount codes, free products, early access to new products, and gift cards, charitable donations, bonuses with purchases, membership cards, and free upgrades, are some of these rewards. You can also label this kind of review as “incentivized” as an honest disclosure. 

Are incentivized reviews allowed on review websites? 

In general, review websites prohibit brands from soliciting dishonest reviews using monetary rewards. You can always check the guidelines or policies of review websites to make sure. For example, Amazon prohibits any kind of “reviews that are created, edited, or removed in exchange for compensation. Compensation includes cash, discounts, free products, gift cards, and refunds”, unless through their Amazon Vine program. You can check out guidelines for Google, Amazon, Yelp, and Tripadvisor


Trustmary team
Trustmary team


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