Tempted to ask friends and family to post online reviews of your business? You may be risking your credibility and the trust of real customers.
When it comes to online reviews, trust is critically important. Business owners have to trust that reviewers will present a fair and accurate accounting of their transactions. But more importantly, would-be customers must trust that the reviewers are actual customers writing impartial reviews of their experiences with the company.
While it might be tempting to tip the scales in your favor by asking friends and family or even hiring a company to write glowing reviews of your business - it's serious mistake, marketing experts say.
Fake reviews can lead to a lot of problems. In some cases business owners have been fined for false advertising. In other instances, online review sites have identified fake reviews, removed them and posted consumer alerts about the misdeed on the company's page.
"What's that do to your credibility?" asks Teresa Cleveland, an online business manager with The Entrepreneur's Toolbox. "It's such a credibility buster. I think you're better off having no reviews than a fake one."
When potential customers learn that you tried to deceive them, it will be nearly impossible to change that perception, she said. "It's always going to be in the back of their minds."
By using a fake review, you are devaluing the most important asset of your business, said Stephanie Rauschenbach, owner of Simply Put PR. "The most important currency any business has is trust with its consumers," she said. "It's a significant risk to put yourself out there in a dishonest way. There's too much at stake. Why damage the credibility you've worked so hard to earn?"
Companies also should consider that good reviews are not that elusive, the experts said. If you and your employees are practicing good customer service and delivering the quality of service or product you've promised, there should be no shortage of real customers willing to praise your business publicly.
In many cases, you just need to ask, Rauschenbach said. She suggests sending a follow-up email reminding them of a specific compliment they paid you or your staff and asking them to share it. "Make it easy for them," she said. "Put the link for the review site in the email or encourage them to share (their compliment) on Facebook."