Online Ratings and Reviews: Don’t Ask for Positive Comments

Over the past few weeks I’ve heard and read well-intentioned legal marketers recommend asking clients, legal colleagues and other referral sources for favorable comments on ratings and review websites like Yelp and Avvo.

While it might seem counterintuitive, asking for favorable reviews generally is unproductive and could actually discourage positive comments.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WjTaMZyS70&w=560&h=315]

Unlike asking for a referral, where the referer can act on the request privately and selectively, asking for a public, permanent online recommendation puts your professional contacts and clients on the spot. Implicitly you’re saying “I’ll be watching, and I’m expecting it to be great.” It’s a no-win situation insofar as you risk alienating your supporters and stifling positive word of mouth, and even if they do post a recommendation it likely will be a generic expression of approval rather than a helpful precis of your capabilities and character.

But don’t take my word, here’s what Yelp’s blog has to say:

Why would an online review site discourage review solicitation?

Two big reasons:

1. Would-be customers might not trust you. Let’s face it, most business owners are only going to solicit reviews from their happy customers, not the unhappy ones. Over time, these self-selected reviews create intrinsic bias in the business listing — a bias that savvy consumers (read: yelpers) can smell from a mile away. No business is perfect, and it’s impossible to please 100% of your customers 100% of the time.

2. The solicited reviews may get filtered, and that will drive you crazy. Solicited reviews often get filtered by our automated review filter. Why do these reviews sometimes get filtered? Well, we have the unfortunate task of trying to help our users distinguish between real and fake reviews, and while we think we do a pretty good job at it with our fancy computer algorithms, the harsh reality is that solicited reviews often fall somewhere in between. Imagine, for example, the business owner who “solicits” a review by sticking a laptop in front of a customer and smilingly invites her to write a review while he looks over her shoulder. We don’t need these kinds of reviews, so it shouldn’t be a surprise when solicited reviews get filtered.

Yelp exists to connect people with great local businesses. We do this by providing people with as much trustworthy information as we can. If consumers don’t trust our content, people stop using Yelp, and everyone loses: consumers don’t have a resource they can trust to make spending decisions, would-be customers stop visiting your business listing.

How to Leverage Your Review Site Profiles and Encourage Reviews Without Directly Asking

A better way to derive value from your online ratings and reviews AND to motivate professional contacts and clients to recommend you is to let them know where to find your profiles. Display badges on your blog and website homepages, email signature and social media pages that link directly to your profile on Yelp, Avvo and other ratings and reviews websites.

Again, from the Yelp blog:

The power of word-of-mouth is that folks generally trust recommendations when they occur as part of an organic process.  There is an important distinction between “Hey, write a review about me on Yelp,” [BAD] and “Hey, check us out on Yelp!” [GOOD]. It’s the difference between actively pursuing testimonials and simply creating awareness of your business through social media outlets.

The latter allows consumers to vet your online reputation without feeling like they’re being solicited. To an established Yelp community member, a reminder of your Yelp presence can act like a dog-whistle prompting them to share their feedback about your business with fellow Yelpers.

How do you monitor and manage your online reputation via ratings and reviews sites?

Comments

  1. I can see letting clients and colleagues know about the availability of a place to place a review or comment, but you’ve got to be prepared for people who say negative things about your practice.

    Understand that you can’t be all things to all people, but that’s not always a bad thing; astroturfing is fairly common, and businesses of all stripes that maintain a 100% satisfaction rate are subject to suspicion.

    • Jay Pinkert says:

      Thanks for adding your thoughts, Jay!

      There’s a difference, though, between preparation and defensiveness. Statistically, rants and strongly negative reviews are rare, yet they occupy a disproportionate amount of lawyer mindshare. It’s an unproductive inversion to focus on the cultivation of positive feedback as risk mitigation rather than opportunity development.

      And what constitutes a “negative” review or comment? A numerical score less than perfect? Constructive criticism? How one responds to and engages with less-than-fulsome commentary can be more powerful than a string of 5-star ratings with tepid commentary.

      • Agreed that negative reviews are more common in terms of mindshare. If you do a consistently great job, that’s what counts.

        As to the responsiveness, you’re spot on. People realize that even the best of the bunch makes a mistake from time to time; it’s the proactive response and correction that scores high marks.

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