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It’s no secret that traditional advertising isn’t as powerful as it once was. Consumers are more distrusting of brands than ever, and increasingly cynical of attempts to win them over. Now, where they want to learn about brands and products is from fellow consumers, through user-generated content (UGC) such as ratings, reviews, and customer photos and videos. To win in the C2C economy we live in, you need to start utilizing and embracing UGC advertising

According to our latest Shopper Experience Index, about 22% of shoppers say shopper review ads make them most likely to buy a product from an ad, and almost three quarters (74%) of shoppers agree that shopper photos increase their likelihood of buying a product. Over half (53%) say UGC — like social images from customers — makes them more confident in their purchase decision than professional photography. And 42% would buy a product with no professional photos.

So we know the benefits of UGC advertising. But the clue is right there: advertising. UGC advertising is a form of advertising, meaning it’s held to the same scrutiny as regular advertising standards.

What is UGC advertising?

UGC advertising is the new way that brands “talk” to their consumers, just like they used to through traditional advertising. And just like traditional advertising, it too has to be regulated. It’s always been illegal to be misleading and deceptive in advertising and UGC is no different. So, how do we apply these old laws to meet changing consumer expectations, new technologies, and channels?

When brands and retailers use UGC to help consumers understand, find, and shop for products, that UGC is legally considered a form of advertising. It’s considered an “endorsement or testimonial” in terms of advertising law.

When it’s used that way, it’s governed by consumer protection laws:

While there’s many laws that govern UGC, and while they differ in specifics, they all start from the premise that consumers need to be protected from fraudulent, deceptive, and misleading advertising. Violations of these laws can be very costly — not only financially, but it will cost your reputation as well. 

UGC advertising best practices

Costly fines and irreversibly damaging your brand’s reputation are why it’s so important for you to be authentic in how you collect, moderate and display UGC. Here’s our top do’s and don’ts to help guide your UGC advertising strategy:

Don’t:

  • Cherry pick reviews: This is the practice of only publishing or collecting positive reviews. In fact, this can be applied in all phases of the review practice: collection, moderation, and display. You need to treat all of your honest, authentic reviews the same, whether they’re positive or negative. When you ask for reviews, don’t ask them to specifically be positive. Don’t discourage or not allow people to submit negative reviews. Don’t reject negative reviews. Be sure to publish them, even if you don’t like them or don’t agree with them. 
  • Post or allow fake reviews: Fake reviews are reviews that are inauthentic in some way. They can even be written by a real person but that person didn’t actually purchase or experience the product. Fake reviews also include the practice of editing or manipulating reviews to make them more positive. Then, there’s reviews that weren’t generated by a real person, but a bot. This could also include a company asking their employees or customers to post positive reviews in exchange for a reward or compensation. 

Do: 

  • Disclose any material connection between the reviewer and merchant: Consumers expect that a review is going to be written by a real consumer who has a normal, actual experience with the product. If that isn’t the case, or if the review is written by someone who they wouldn’t expect, then the credibility of that review is going to be impacted. For instance, if a consumer knew that a review was written by someone who didn’t have an authentic relationship with a merchant, they’ll put less weight on it. Then they’ll factor that in when they’re judging the credibility and legitimacy of the review. So, if you have a relationship with the poster (like if they’re an employee of your brand) that needs to be disclosed. 
  • Disclose any material benefit provided to the reviewer: If a material benefit was provided to the person writing the review — like through a sampling campaign, where they got a free or discounted product in exchange for a review, it needs to be disclosed.  This also includes if you pay an influencer to post or write a review. 
  • Make sure those disclosures are prominently displayed: There’s no particular verbiage that needs to be used in these types of disclosures, but it has to be sufficient to convey the information that the reader of the review would likely think is important to know. The benefit (free sample, payment, etc) needs to be clearly stated. It has to catch the reader’s attention and be unlikely to be missed. 

Choose the right UGC provider

The best way to ensure that your reviews are authentic and your UGC advertising can be trusted is by working with a UGC provider that takes reasonable measures to detect and prevent fake reviews. A provider like Bazaarvoice, perhaps.

UGC is the heart and soul of our business, so ensuring UGC remains authentic is one of our core principles. We use both human moderation and machine learning to verify that reviews are from real people with real product experience, and aren’t fake or manipulated.

Want to learn more about our products and services? We’d rather let our customers do the talking for us. See why G2 has rated Bazaarvoice #1 in UGC (for the 6th consecutive quarter!) Or request a free demo below to get started.

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