In today’s market, every business has or should have an official company social media policy guideline or policy statement. Even if your business is small, a policy statement is essential. Indeed, TWO social media policy statements might be necessary if your business uses employees to promote “the brand,” to promote sales and/or to promote interest in the store and/or sponsored events.
Like nearly all social media platforms, Google has features that allow online users to provide reviews. Yelp.com is a well-known example of a website dedicated to providing customer review. But Yelp is hardly unique; literally thousands of websites encourage consumer/user reviews of various sorts.
Like many web-platforms, Google has issues guidelines for those wishing to post reviews. See here for the latest version. Google’s Review Policies provide some good lessons for how to promulgate useful and common-sense social media policies for businesses. We wrote about some of these issues with respect to using social media endorsers and guidelines issued by the FTC. “Disclosure” seems to be the central idea behind the FTC guidelines. “Authentic” and “Don’t Do It” seems to be the the dual ideal behind Google’s guidelines. Based these, your business may need to review and revise your social media policies. An experienced business and social-media-savvy attorney can help. Here is what you need to know.
Social Media Policies: Excerpts From Google Local Guides Review Policies
The most current Google Review Policy begins with a summary that is a good touchstone for creating company social media policies. The summary states:
Summary: “Make sure that the reviews on your business listing, or those that you leave at a business you’ve visited, are honest representations of the customer experience. Those that aren’t may be removed.”
The Review Guide continues and states:
Preamble: “Whether you’re going to a place or you own one, you want ratings, reviews, photos, and recommendations that are helpful and trustworthy. Reviewing a place is a great way to share both positive and negative opinions. But please follow the policies listed below when writing your review.”
As noted above, these two provisions are attempting to facilitate review that are authentic and personal, rather than manufactured or purchased. The provision related to “CONFLICT OF INTEREST” hones in on the point and brings in the idea of “not doing” certain types of reviews or engaging in certain behavior. That provision states:
Conflict of interest: “Reviews are most valuable when they are honest and unbiased. If you own or work at a place, please don’t review your own business or employer. Don’t offer or accept money, products, or services to write reviews for a business or to write negative reviews about a competitor. If you’re a business owner, don’t set up review stations or kiosks at your place of business just to ask for reviews written at your place of business.”
Note that there is another Google Review Policy that you can find under the “Maps User Contributed Content” tabs. Under that policy, the conflict of interest provision state:
“Maps user contributed content is most valuable when it is honest and unbiased. The following practices are not allowed:
- Reviewing your own business.
- Posting negative content about a current or former employment experience.
- Posting negative content about a competitor to manipulate their ratings.”
Some have argued that these Google Review Policies are directed at tamping down on disparagement by disgruntled former workers against former bosses and employers. See one example here. But the Google guidelines themselves have broader implications for your business; this is not just about former employees, but also about current employees and how your business engages with customers. The prohibition against “review kiosks” and “review stations” has an broader target than disgruntled employees.
Social Media Policies: What is a Social Media Policy Statement?
Like any company “policy statement,” a social media policy statement is a one or two-page document that concisely lists the “dos-and-donts” with respect to your employees using social media with respect to your business. Such statements are sometimes free-standing, but they are bundled into an employee handbook.
Social Media Policies: Lessons From Google Local Guides Review Policies
The Google Review Policy Guidelines provide several good examples of behavior and activities that should be in any good social media policy given to employees. Among those are:
- Do not post online reviews with respect to our COMPANY
- Do not offer money, products, or services to someone else to write reviews for our COMPANY
- Do not accept money to write reviews
- Do not write or encourage anyone else to write negative reviews about any competitor of COMPANY
- Encouraging authentic and truthful review written by someone else is acceptable BUT don’t delay or waylay customers as they leave to have them write reviews
Sometimes businesses can create their own worst nightmares with respect to inauthentic reviews. Often these ill-advised efforts originate with marketing and research and development departments. These departments want input and information to facilitate efforts to improve the product, customer service, customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, etc. So, naturally, they think: let’s get more reviews. Then they think: Let’s give incentives to our employees for them to encourage the customers to write reviews. This backfires since employees quickly learn that the easiest method of getting the customer “to write a review” is to write the review for the customer. Famously, this has happened at several prominent restaurant chains. Waitresses and bartenders were given bonuses for certain increased levels of customer reviews. Soon after the incentive program started, review began to increase. But it also became clear that the reviews were not “real.” It turned out the employees started saying things like: “hey hun/hey doll, will you write a review?” and if the customer was non-committal, with a big friendly smile, the next statement was: “Here, let me see your phone. I’ll write it for you.” Most often the response was: “Sure.” Obviously, from a marketing and R&D perspective, that is a “review” but not an authentic or useful review.
The foregoing are just some of the matters that should be included in your company’s social media policy guides for employees. As noted, if you have management-directed employees, you need a separate set of policies for them. Likewise, your marketing and R&D departments might need a set of policies too, about how to generate authentic and useful online reviews.
To learn more about the Google guidelines, contact the professionals at Revision Legal. If your business has a substantial online presence, 2018 may be the time to review company policies and procedures — and the employee handbook — to review or create your media social policy statement(s). Revision Legal offers a wide array of legal services related to the internet, business law and consumer protection. We can be reached by using the form on this page or by calling us at 855-473-8474.
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