Guide to FTC Compliance for Reputation Management


Trent Ruffolo, Solutions Product Marketing Manager
Sherman Tabor, Solutions Product Marketing Manager

Product: Reviews
Blog Date: February 2022

When talking with clients, one of the most frequent questions we get is: can we only post positive reviews on our website and hide the rest? And the quick answer: no! Publishing only positive reviews for consumers to see — known as review suppression (or "review gating," or "selective review publication") — may seem like a quick and easy way to improve your online reputation, but in reality it is a violation that puts your brand at serious legal and financial risk.

A fast-fashion retailer for women was recently fined $4.2 million by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for suppressing its negative reviews. This company installed a third-party review management interface that automatically published all positive reviews while withholding hundreds of thousands of negative reviews from their site.

Review suppression can include any process — automated or not — by which positive reviews (typically reviews with a rating of 4-5 stars) are published online while negative reviews (typically reviews with a rating of 1-3 stars) are hidden from consumers. The retailer discussed above certainly isn't the only company partaking in such behavior; many other players have implemented similar practices and policies.

But agencies like the FTC are beginning to crack down — 10 third-party reviews vendors recently received warning notices from the FTC based on their questionable review management practices.

You might be asking: what is the Federal Trade Commission, and what can they do? The FTC is a federal agency that aims to protect consumers by regulating unfair, deceptive, or fraudulent business practices. They have the authority to enforce broad prohibition against companies or individuals who participate in these types of behavior.

And if your team works with an external reviews vendor, you might assume that you are protected from penalties inflicted by agencies like the FTC. After all, shouldn't that vendor be responsible for any wrongdoing? Unfortunately, that's rarely how it plays out. According to the FTC, in regard to working with a third-party reviews vendor, "you can be held responsible for what they do on your behalf."

So, what do you need to do (and NOT do)?

First and foremost, don't suppress negative reviews. Publish all reviews you generate on your website to build better brand trust and to stay compliant with federal rules and regulations. Misrepresentation of reviews is a deceptive and misleading tactic that the FTC views as grounds to issue punishment.

Instead of suppressing negative reviews, your team should embrace this kind of feedback and respond most effectively. Thoughtful responses not only go a long way with retaining existing customers, but they can also help attract potential new customers! According to ReviewTrackers, 45% of consumers say they're more likely to visit a business if it responds to negative reviews.

Additionally, do not edit reviews to alter their message. For example, don't change words to make a negative review sound more positive. In the same vein, you should not prevent or discourage consumers from submitting negative reviews. This is just as dishonest and misleading as hiding negative reviews, and could be treated as such by the FTC.

Finally, your business should be wary about working with any company that supports review suppression features. The FTC has clearly shown they are able and willing to enforce significant penalties at the business' expense. It's important that you follow best practices and work with reviews vendors that do the same. Yext's reputation management tools, such as sentiment analysis and intelligent review response make it easy to follow reviews best practices and stay connected with your clients. When managed the right way, reviews provide a massive opportunity to interact with your customers, make informed improvements, and ultimately, win more business.

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