Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Who Loves You, Baby? How (and How Not) to Use Positive Feedback

It's happened to all of us: You're browsing the "Now Playing" movie ads and see a brief quote from a rave review that flies in the face of everything else you've heard critics and friends. Then you notice that the quote is attributed to some local radio DJ you never heard of. In the space of a few seconds, your feelings about that movie go from indifference to excitement to skepticism. But that's the problem with testimonials and other types of positive feedback -- they can't always be taken at face value.

What about the testimonials you've posted on your organization's website? First of all, yes, you should have some. Legitimate testimonials from satisfied customers are easy enough to obtain -- all you have to do is ask for a few choice words, over the phone or on paper. What you don't want to do is make up bogus quotes. Sooner or later, some way or other, you'll be found out, and then you'll have some big explaining to do. And viewers can generally tell bogus quotes a mile away. They're always a little too perfectly expressed, they all tend to be the same length, and they often use initials instead of names -- not to protect anyone's anonymity, but to keep you from inquiring further. A testimonial that sounds like a real person wrote it, and has a full name attached to it, is always more credible. So keep it real when you're gilding your web pages with thanks and compliments.

Phony positive feedback isn't just a website thing; it's caused its share of problems on social media channels as well. Yelp is a prime example. It's always had a problem filtering out the fake reviews from the real ones, and I can't tell you how many times I've heard business owners say, "Hey, please go to our Yelp page and write a great review for us," regardless of whether I'd ever actually used their products or services. If your company depends on Yelp for a percentage of its business, you may not be able to control who says what (including the inevitable negative review from time to time), but you can at least keep your nose clean by not blatantly soliciting rave write-ups. Even that marketing monolith, Facebook, felt compelled to remove "like-gating" (the practice of forcing viewers to like a page in exchange for special incentives) as a possible option for business owners. That's bad news for those who love to game the system, but ultimately it adds credibility to the likes a business does receive, making your Facebook popularity that much more meaningful.

All this boils down to the need to go for the purest, most genuine testimonials you can get. If they're over-long or clumsily written, ask for permission to clean them up. A skilled copywriter can do a little cosmetic work that makes a big difference without distorting the meaning behind the quote. I've performed this service for many clients and never had any complaints. It makes the website read more smoothly, and it makes the contributor of the quote sound more eloquent. The right words can really help you boost your business -- as long as you use them properly!