A lot of people complain about negative reviews, but don’t take the time to actively refer happy customers to review sites. It’s not really that hard. It just takes an active effort. You can always encourage people to post reviews on certain outlets through signage or your receipts. But I’d go beyond that.

When someone tells you that they’ve had a wonderful experience with your business or product, that is an opportunity to invite them to post a review on a particular service (whatever service is most important at that moment). This only comes after you have listened to them, answered any questions and sincerely thanked them. However, it can manifest itself in different ways.

The Restaurant Manager

You are the manager of a restaurant, and a guest asks to see you, in order to tell you how lovely their server was. Here’s something you could say: “thank you for taking the time to tell me. I’m very happy that you had such a great experience. If you feel comfortable posting your thoughts online, we’d be grateful for a review on Yelp or TripAdvisor.” Whatever their response is, you say, “thank you again, and have a wonderful evening.”

If you are a small business, even better. You can include something like, “online reviews can be so impactful to a small business like ours.” And people will respond. Whatever they post, you should be appreciative.

I know that, for some, this might feel like a big ask or like you are putting pressure on the customer. It could be that way, if you are too heavy-handed about it. Watch your tone, watch how you introduce it. It should be a lightweight aside. Nothing more. It’s the end of the conversation, after you have delivered value, not the start.

If it feels like too much, you could always hold off on inviting someone to post a review until they are a regular customer you have a relationship with. If they know you and your business, they’ll be even more open to you asking if they’d be willing to review your business online.

The Book Author

You are the author of a book and you just received an email from a reader, telling you how much they enjoyed your book. They have some questions they’d like answers to. Thank them. Provide great answers to those questions. And then ask if they’d be willing to post a review of the book online. I have done this several times. This is the type of thing I would say:

“At the risk of being a little forward, would you be willing to review the book online? Honest reviews are so powerful and meaningful. Amazon.com is a great place to review the book. If you can’t or don’t feel comfortable, no worries, I totally understand.”

Simple, no pressure, no expectation. And it works.

Incentivizing Reviews

Don’t offer someone a free drink if they’ll post a review. Don’t offer them a copy of your next book. Don’t even offer them a 5% discount on their next order. Not unless you are going to make sure they disclose that in their review.

From the FTC:

What if all I get from a company is a $1-off coupon, an entry in a sweepstakes or a contest, or a product that is only worth a few dollars? Does that still have to be disclosed?

The question you need to ask is whether knowing about that gift or incentive would affect the weight or credibility your readers give to your recommendation. If it could, then it should be disclosed. For example, being entered into a sweepstakes or a contest for a chance to win a thousand dollars in exchange for an endorsement could very well affect how people view that endorsement. Determining whether a small gift would affect the weight or credibility of an endorsement could be difficult. It’s always safer to disclose that information.

Also, even if getting one free item that’s not very valuable doesn’t affect your credibility, continually getting free stuff from an advertiser or multiple advertisers could suggest you expect future benefits from positive reviews. If a blogger or other endorser has a relationship with a marketer or a network that sends freebies in the hope of positive reviews, it’s best to let readers know about the free stuff.

Even an incentive with no financial value might affect the credibility of an endorsement and would need to be disclosed. The Guides give the example of a restaurant patron being offered the opportunity to appear in television advertising before giving his opinion about a product. Because the chance to appear in a TV ad could sway what someone says, that incentive should be disclosed.

Review programs are a thing. Sending someone a copy of your book so that they will review it is fine. But those programs need to be crafted with the FTC endorsement guidelines in mind. You might think you skirt the FTC and get away with it, and you might. But I feel it’s worth it to build your reviews honestly. Whenever someone has offered me a discount for a review, I’ve never done it because it felt dirty.

Reviews aren’t some sort of under-the-table deal. You performed a service, they are reviewing that service. Don’t cheapen that or create a conflict of interest or a legal issue.

Unfortunately, many people who have a positive experience don’t think to post a review until they have a bad one. And when that happens, they freak out. The idea is to be actively seeking reviews and build up a solid review history over a long period of time so that, when you do receive bad reviews, they won’t weigh too heavily on your business.

Don’t wait until you have an awful presence, on a meaningful review site, before you begin to encourage happy customers to post reviews. Do that before you need it. Make asking a habit.