how to manage your online reputation in the united states
Giugno 2, 2023
In recent years, online reputation has rapidly emerged as the primary influencing factor in consumer purchasing decisions within our economy. Companies are placing much greater emphasis on acquiring positive reviews. This heightened level of activity has also caught the attention of another interested party—the United States government.
Important tips for ensuring intact corporate reputation compliance: Avoid the temptation to suppress negative feedback As more and more companies rush to compete by adding reviews to their social channels, some operators may be tempted to suppress negative reviews to improve their averages. There have been documented cases of companies not publishing negative product reviews or issuing “gag orders” to prevent customers from leaving negative reviews. This is not only immoral and dishonest; it is even illegal.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is responsible for protecting American consumers. One way they do so is by prohibiting unfair business practices. With the exponential impact of online reviews, the practice of banning, limiting, or manipulating public reviews has come under the Fed’s scrutiny. Here is a summary of the Consumer Review Fairness Act, taken from www.FTC.gov.
Consumer Review Fairness Act: What Businesses Need to Know The Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA) safeguards people’s ability to share their honest opinions about a company’s products, services, or conduct in any forum, including social media. Is your company compliant? Contracts that prohibit honest reviews or threaten legal action against reviewers harm people who rely on reviews when making purchasing decisions. But another group is also harmed when others try to stifle honest negative reviews: companies that work hard to earn positive reviews.
CFRA monitors all reputation compliance activities The Consumer Review Fairness Act was enacted in response to reports that some companies try to prevent people from providing honest reviews of products or services received. Some companies have included contractual provisions, including in their online terms and conditions, that have allowed them to sue or penalize consumers for posting negative reviews. Here are some basic tips for complying with the law.
What kind of reviews does the law protect? The law protects a wide range of honest consumer assessments, including online reviews, social media posts, uploaded photos, videos, etc. And it’s not just about product reviews. It also applies to consumer ratings of a company’s customer service.
What does the Consumer Review Fairness Act prohibit? In summary, the law makes it illegal for a company to use a contractual provision that:
Restricts or limits a person who is party to that contract from reviewing a company’s products, services, or conduct; Imposes a penalty or fee on those providing a review; or Requires individuals to waive their intellectual property rights over the content of their reviews. What specific conduct is prohibited by the statute? The Consumer Review Fairness Act makes it illegal for companies to include standardized provisions that threaten or penalize individuals for posting honest reviews. For example, in an online transaction, it would be illegal for a company to include in its terms and conditions a provision that prohibits or punishes negative reviews by customers. (However, the law does not apply to employment contracts or agreements with independent contractors.)
What can a company do to protect itself from inappropriate or irrelevant content and ensure better Reputation Compliance? The law states that it is acceptable to prohibit or remove a review that:
Contains sensitive or private information, such as a person’s financial, medical, or personal records or a company’s trade secrets; Is defamatory, harassing, offensive, obscene, explicit, or inappropriate regarding race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or other intrinsic characteristics; Is unrelated to the company’s products or services; or Is clearly false or misleading. However, it is unlikely that a consumer’s assessment or opinion with which you disagree would meet the “clearly false or misleading” standard.
What is the penalty for violating the Consumer Review Fairness Act? Congress has granted executive authority to the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general. The law specifies that a violation of the CRFA will be treated as a violation of an FTC rule defining an unfair or deceptive act or practice. This means that your company could be subject to financial penalties, as well as a federal court order.
To ensure your company complies with the Consumer Review Fairness Act:
Review form contracts, including online terms and conditions; and Remove any provisions that prevent people from sharing their honest reviews, penalize those who do, or claim copyright over people’s reviews (even if you have never tried to enforce it or do not intend to enforce it). The wisest policy is to let people honestly talk about your products and their experience with your company.
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves! Encourage honest, transparent, and authentic content from your customers, and you’ll see the power it has to quickly build your reputation. Sure, you’ll receive some negative reviews, but if you use them as an opportunity to address a valid concern or simply ask the review author if they may have left that review in error (a delicate response to an online troll), you’ll find that even a few occasional negative reviews handled the right way can be an asset to your reputation.
Another area of interest for the Fed is the Consumer Financial Protection Act, specifically unfair and deceptive tactics that hinder consumer reviews. The full bulletin can be viewed by clicking here.
The takeaway from this bulletin is that companies should make every effort to avoid manipulating reviews to mislead customers into believing their products or services are better than indicated by actual public reviews. Always take the high road when it comes to Reputation Compliance.
Practices to avoid: Paying for reviews Paid employees leaving customer or product reviews Removing or suppressing negative reviews Practicing review control (not allowing dissatisfied customers to easily leave public feedback) Threatening legal action for negative reviews While most of these rulings and bulletins pertain to product reviews (think Amazon, e-commerce, etc.) rather than company reviews on social channels, there are still good guidelines for businesses seeking to build their reputation the right way. It seems that old-fashioned values still apply to modern technological platforms and online reputation. Be honest, be authentic, and you’ll gain public trust!
The key point here is, “Use a platform like Reviews Up to ensure better reputation compliance and help your company adhere to government guidelines for consumer protection compliance.”
Cristian Nardi Founder of the Guaranteed Privacy with over 15 years of experience in the Online Reputation Manager