Laws and regulations surrounding the solicitation of online business reviews and testimonials in Australia.
Many small businesses in Australia practice a common marketing tactic, but they are completely unaware that it is illegal.
That practice is soliciting fake online business reviews and testimonials for their by offering an incentive or reward for positive 5-star reviews. The most popular platforms for this are Facebook and Google, although Yelp and a few other sites are also targeted.
The practice usually involves a competition with an awesome prize – to go in the draw to win the prize, punters must leave a 5-star review online. A lot of business owners are engaging in this tactic without knowing that under Australian Consumer Law (ACL), that is completely illegal, and can carry pretty hefty fines.
In addition to being illegal in Australia, it is also really really bad for your SEO. Both Google and Facebook are very intelligent systems that have built-in mechanisms designed to identify fake and solicited reviews.
FAKE FACEBOOK REVIEWS:
For Facebook, if they catch you running a competition on their platform that requires people to leave you a review – positive or ‘honest’ – they will delete your page. No questions asked, no cooling off period, no ‘second chance’ – just a straight out removal of your business Facebook page. Suddenly, any time, money or other resources you’ve invested in building your Facebook community have all been for nothing.
Even if you don’t run your competition on Facebook – if they notice a sudden influx in the quantity of reviews that you are receiving (as would happen if you were running a rewards program or competition), they will close down your page. If you have a number of reviews all originating from the same IP address, then they will close down your page.
Basically, Facebook will close down your Facebook page if they notice anything even slightly dodgy about the way you are receiving online business reviews.
FAKE GOOGLE REVIEWS:
Having a number of positive reviews for your Google Business listing can lead to better performance in Google’s search engine and higher levels of organic traffic. Because of this positive effect that reviews have, many people have started trying to ‘game’ Google with fake reviews.
Similar to Facebook, if Google notices an influx of positive reviews all of sudden or if many of your reviews come from the same IP address then they will discredit those reviews. If the problem persists, then they may eventually blacklist your website entirely, which is the digital equivalent of your business being swallowed by a sink hole – there is no coming back from it.
LEGAL REVIEWS AND TESTIMONIALS IN AUSTRALIA:
It is not illegal to ask your customers or clients to leave you a review in Australia. It is illegal to offer them a prize or incentive to leave the online business review. It is also illegal to ask them specifically to make it a positive or 5-star review.
Furthermore, it is illegal to have friends and family members leave you a review when they are not legitimate customers or clients. In fact, it is illegal to ask any person who is not a customer or client to leave you a review.
So basically – ask your genuine customers or clients to leave you genuine feedback and reviews. Don’t try to game the system, don’t try to blur the lines and don’t try to ‘trick’ or ‘fool’ Google or Facebook, and your business will be fine.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION AND RESOURCES:
- New Guidelines for Online Reviews and Testimonials
- Can I Use Reviews and Testimonials to Promote My Products? <– this article has some great examples at the bottom of Aussie businesses that have been caught out.
- Managing Online Reviews by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commision
- The Risks of Manufactured Business Testimonials – A real life example of a company that got themselves into hot water with the ACCC for encouraging their franchisees to create fake testimonials. They even went as far as to create a how-to guide for creating fake testimonials!
- Warning About Fake Testimonials as ACCC Fines Businesses