You just received a batch of reviews in and you want to display your glowing, positive reviews online for the world to see. But there’s a catch: when you try to select the filter to only display four-star reviews or higher, it’s frozen! Is it a glitch? 

Unfortunately, no. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released some guidance clarifying a 2016 law about review gating, the practice of only showing, soliciting, or promoting positive reviews. The law is called the Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016. The wording gives the government the power to fine you if you engage in something called “covered communication.”

Wait, what’s covered communication? Without repeating legalese, the Act defines it as any attempt to restrict a customer from giving feedback, positive or negative, about a business. Review gating fell into a “gray area” until the FTC released guidance clearing up how they’re interpreting the law. Let’s dive into what these guidelines are, what they mean for your business, and what you can do about it.

What the FTC guidelines are:

The stated purpose is to use reviews for honesty and transparency. Numerous consumers depend on honest reviews to decide who to do business with. That’s why the FTC has come down against gating reviews – trying to hide negative reviews on your site or only asking for positive reviews. Per the FTC’s guidelines: “Consumers who rely on online reviews of companies, products, and services should be getting a true and accurate picture of what other consumers think.”

Already, the FTC has been reaching out to sites that they suspect are hiding reviews on their website. These sites tend to be bigger companies in the spotlight, but as with everything, we’re wondering if the FTC will start looking at “small potatoes” more. It’s unclear whether the FTC is using an algorithm, but it is very easy for anyone to check your website read your reviews, search for your business, and see discrepancies between the reviews you post and the reviews on Google, Facebook, Bing, etc.

What does this mean for my business?

Although the FTC is only issuing guidance, and therefore it’s not a law, their guidance is based on a law. Said law, mentioned above, gives the FTC the power to levy fines on businesses who violate it. That’s why, due to the guidelines, your Reputation Management service may not gatekeep reviews for you anymore.

That means you need to be more vigilant than ever about addressing negative reviews and remember to always reply to reviews. If you receive a negative one, reply right away letting the customer know you’re looking into it. Once you let the customer know you’ve resolved the problem and you’ve established that they’re happy, ask the reviewer to take the review down after you resolve their concerns.

Our number one tip though? Keep soliciting reviews, and keep doing great! The best way to garner positive reviews is to keep doing an impeccable job serving your customers, and ask for reviews often. These customers will be more likely to leave you positive reviews and let the internet know how great you are at customer service and meeting your community’s needs.

If you do get a bad review, ask for clarification if they only left a star or two. If they left feedback. Let them know you’re sorry for the bad experience, you’re looking into the matter, and you’ll be in touch.

Once you get to the bottom of their bad review, reach out again and give them a solution: a discount on their next service, a redo of their previous service, or a free product can work wonders. Once you’ve established that they’re satisfied, ask them to take down the bad review. They’re usually willing to do so once they’re concerns are addressed and they feel taken care of.

So what should you do? Three possible solutions:

  1. Swim at your own risk – you can gatekeep reviews on your site, but it’s on you. Fewer review hosting algorithms and reputation management companies are going to gatekeep reviews because if they do, it could fall on them if an FTC complaint is received.
  2. Post every review on your site, even the negative ones. Even if your site can’t display your replies, if they click the negative review, they can see if you’ve replied. If you did, they’ll know you’re trying to fix the situation. If you have a ton of recent positive reviews and only a few negative ones, this is your best bet.
  3. Don’t post reviews on your site at all. While we believe posting reviews can reap you a lot of engagement and SEO benefits, if you don’t have many reviews or have more negative feedback, then it could be best to keep your reviews off your site. For now. Meanwhile, keep garnering reviews, keep doing a great job, and pay attention to the areas where you could use improvement and let your clients know how you’re fixing your blind spots.

Need some help?

If you can’t keep up with the reviews, or just want them off your plate, contact us today and we’ll walk you through some solutions!