Customer reviews play a significant role in brand-building, reputation management and marketing. Positive reviews lead to social-proof trust, which potential customers draw on to inform their buying decisions. And with 84% of people trusting online reviews as much as a personal recommendation from a friend, it’s no surprise that businesses are constantly seeking new ways to encourage customers to leave feedback.
Deploying proactive strategies to solicit reviews is smart marketing. However, some companies cross the ethical line by engaging in a practice known as review gating, which involves selectively highlighting positive feedback and burying negative feedback.
While this strategy may move the needle in the short term, it could have serious and lasting ramifications on a brand’s reputation and consumer trust.
What Is Review Gating?
Review gating is tantamount to cherry-picking. Just as a cherry picker will select the best fruits and discard the rest, a business engaged in review gating will solicit customer feedback but only
use positive reviews, which can skew consumer perceptions.
How does this process work?
Essentially, a business will send a message to a customer inquiring about their consumer experience. If the customer says their experience was positive, they’ll be prompted to provide an online review.
However, if the customer experience was negative, they may not receive a follow-up prompt or may even be directed to a dead link where their comments will never be made public.
As the name implies, this practice effectively turns businesses into gatekeepers, allowing them to subjectively and selectively decide which reviews to let in (make available to the public) and which ones refuse entry (to hide from the public). It allows the business to share a review link with happy customers but not unhappy customers.
This is misleading and as with fake reviews, can create a false impression that doesn't accurately represent the realistic experience of customers.
Examples of Review Gating
There are several ways a business can engage in review gating. Some examples include:
- Texting customers, asking them to rate their experience, then only asking for reviews from people who rated highly.
- Prompting travelers to rate their stay or trip on a scale of 1-10 and only responding to those who gave a 7 or higher.
- Offering incentives for consumers that leave positive reviews.
- Using NPS (net promoter scores) or CSAT (customer satisfaction) scores to determine which consumers you’ll solicit feedback from.
- Emailing customers to ask if they had a positive or negative experience before requesting a review in a follow-up email.
What Are the Consequences of Review Gating
Naturally, this deceptive practice can lead to a loss of trust and credibility in the business itself.
By promoting the positive and hiding the negative, a business essentially lies about the quality of its products, services and brand experience. This practice may trick customers into making a purchase decision based on false or misleading evidence, ultimately leading to disappointment and frustration when the experience falls short of the advertised one.
But the seeds of mistrust can spread far beyond that, eroding trust in the entire review system. Because if one business is manipulating reviews to augment its brand image, who’s to say that others aren’t also engaging in this behavior?
When consumers are suspicious of all reviews—including those that are honest and genuine—the integrity of the entire social proof process is jeopardized.
What Will Happen to a Business Engaged in Gatekeeping Reviews?
Because review gating threatens the integrity and business model of major review sites like Google, Yelp, Tripadvisor and Amazon, many of these sites explicitly forbid these practices. For instance, Google recently updated its terms of service to say: “Don’t discourage or prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews from customers.”
So, what happens if Google discovers that you’re guilty of review gating? At the very least, Google will likely remove your reviews and flag your site for suspicious activity. Depending on the level of gating, they could go so far as to entirely delist your Google My Business and website from their platform.
And that may just be the beginning. Federal regulators have also taken notice of this deceptive practice and begun to crack down on it. Recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) waded into the gating issue, providing the following guidance to businesses:
“Consumers who rely on online reviews of companies, products and services should be getting a true and accurate picture of what other consumers think. If you operate a website or platform that features reviews, have processes in place to ensure those reviews truly reflect the feedback received from legitimate customers about their real experiences.”
In January 2022, fashion retailer Fashion Nova was ordered by the FTC to pay a fine of $4.2 million for engaging in review gating. The FTC found that Fashion Nova had selectively displayed only positive reviews on its site and deemed this practice a violation of regulations. This marks the first significant fine issued by the FTC for review gating and serves as a shot across the bow to other businesses who might think of engaging in this practice.
Strategies for Promoting Transparency in Reviews
Every business craves positive reviews to boost its brand image. But how can you solicit reviews in an honest manner?
Here are three strategies you can use to promote better transparency:
- Provide quality service – First and foremost, your goal as a business should be to deliver exceptional products or services and even better customer service. Typically, when you foster a fantastic experience, customers will happily leave positive feedback or promote your business.
- Ask for reviews – The average consumer will go out of their way to leave a bad review without any prompting. However, businesses need to explicitly ask customers to leave a positive review because most customers won’t do it on their own. To that end, if you want to get positive feedback, you need to remind customers to do so. You can do this by:
- Collecting email addresses during billing and then following up
- Sending text messages soliciting reviews
- Using in-store placards
- Verbally requesting feedback
- Offering incentives on future purchases (regardless of positive or negative feedback)
- Leveraging social media
Say No to Gating
Positive customer reviews are a powerful marketing and brand-building tool businesses can leverage to attract new customers, drive sales and, ultimately, grow their business. Unsurprisingly, some companies are tempted to resort to review gating—or shades of gating—to improve consumer perceptions. That said, review gating is a shortsighted and unethical practice that can have far-reaching consequences for the business, its consumers and the entire review ecosystem.
Gating might seem like a quick fix to improve a business's online reputation, but it's like putting a bandaid on a broken arm—it doesn't address the root cause of negative reviews. Instead of masking the issue, businesses should prioritize internal improvements and address any customer concerns to enhance the overall customer experience.
If you’re searching for a way to request more reviews, Textedly's Online Review Management Software can help. SMS and MMS give you an easy and effective way to message your entire contact list with just a click.
For genuine feedback, send a text with Textedly.
Inc. 84 Percent of People Trust Online Reviews As Much As Friends. Here's How to Manage What They See. https://www.inc.com/craig-bloem/84-percent-of-people-trust-online-reviews-as-much-.html
Google. Prohibited and Restricted Content. https://support.google.com/contributionpolicy/answer/7400114?hl=en&ref_topic=7422769#zippy=%2Cmisrepresentation%2Cfake-engagement
FTC. Featuring Online Customer Reviews: A Guide for Platforms. https://www.ftc.gov/business-guidance/resources/featuring-online-customer-reviews-guide-platforms
Search Engine Journal. 18 Online Review Statistics Every Marketer Should Know. https://www.searchenginejournal.com/online-review-statistics/329701/#:~:text=1.,look%20for%20negative%20reviews%20specifically.