Amazon recently created shock waves when the company announced it will no longer accept incentivized reviews
This update to Amazon’s terms removes new reviews from consumers who have received a free or discounted product to test, though incentivized reviews were
previously allowed as long as they contained proper disclosure.
This dramatic shift has wide implications for the marketing community.
Why the change is a big deal
To many new and unknown—and even low innovation/involvement organizations—incentivized reviews have been an effective way to build a foundation of
word-of-mouth equity to grow awareness on social media and e-commerce channels.
Marketing-induced, consumer-to-consumer word of mouth
generates twice the sales of paid advertising. The idea of brand managers partnering with consumers to generate content is not new, but it has exploded due to the tremendous scale and measurability of
online outlets and has become a staple in marketing plans.
Just as with all marketing initiatives, there is a right and wrong way to approach consumer reviews. Done correctly, brand managers can encourage quality
opinions that educate prospective customers who want experiences from real people.
Done incorrectly, brand managers’ efforts can quickly spiral into a disguised pay-per-review model and feed the cottage industry that undoubtedly prompted
Tell better brand stories on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and your blog.
Improving reviews—or looking for money?
Amazon’s decision is aimed at ridding bad actors of churning reviews. Amazon should take steps to eliminate disingenuous content, as honest reviews help
nurture consumer confidence.
However, brand sellers quickly noticed that reviews from Amazon’s Vine program are immune to this change. If you’re in the book business, you can disregard
the ban as well—as the update doesn’t apply to incentivized reviews for books.
A quick peek under the surface and marketers might feel the familiar sting of another juggernaut (Facebook) that seemingly pulled the rug out from under
them by gradually requiring them pay up to the powerhouse.
Marketers’ next steps
Changes such as this are meant to protect consumer feedback, but when platforms change the rules and processes, they can "throw the baby out with the
bathwater.” For now, brand managers must find new ways to drive product reviews on Amazon.
Reviews are crucial—61 percent of consumers read them while
making purchases. Ignoring this fact is simply not a choice for marketers. It’s important for brand managers to develop long-term connections with their
customers who will happily share about their experiences because they are satisfied.
Brand managers that have relationships with loyal advocates and the means to activate them have the opportunity to enable post-purchase reviews to sites
Other marketers might turn to customer relationship management software or a social networking page—and many have built brand-owned communities to house
this relationship. Marketers should always encourage post-purchase reviews, but now is the time to kick up the concentration.
Ensure that you have current and relevant reviews on your organization’s website. Consumers who visit your website are often in the evaluation and research
phase, and they are specifically seeking out others’ opinions.
Social media is also an opportunity to build awareness with a built-in preponderance of trust—84 percent of consumers say they either completely or somewhat trust
recommendations from family, colleagues and friends.
There is not a single brand manager I know who would want inauthentic reviews about their products and services. Authenticity is and should always be the
top priority. Valuable reviews not only maintain the credibility of the collective consumer “voice”—they also maintain your organization’s trustworthiness
If I wrote an open letter to Amazon, I would say that there is a middle ground to its policy changes.
Amazon has the opportunity to be a leader in how purposeful word-of-mouth practices should be handled—but many marketers interpret the move as a subtle
cornering to use its Vine services. Principles of Google’s approach to fostering transparency and vetted partnerships can also be borrowed.
Sue Frech is the co-founder and CEO of Social Media Link.