Encourage positive feedback, but don’t suppress any negative comments, in order to foster transparency and trust. Image via Yap Chin Kuan on Unsplash

How to optimize user-generated feedback to improve trust and transparency

USER-generated content like customer reviews and feedback can have a huge effect on brand equity – whether it’s for a product, service or even an app. Good feedback from customers can bring positive growth and recurring sales. After all, at least 88 percent of customers consider reviews similar to personal recommendations, according to hyper-local research firm BrightLocal.

Unfortunately, that also means that user-generated content can have unwanted side effects. Fake or inaccurate reviews are a big problem, especially for retail or e-commerce websites. It’s a possibility that such content can be submitted by competitors, trolls or users looking to exploit loopholes in the review system of e-commerce platforms like Amazon, Alibaba or Lazada.

Fake submissions can badly distort rankings and ratings, which in turn negatively impact the trust factor that such reviews are supposed to represent. There is also the threat of being penalized by search engines or e-commerce platforms if your reviews are found out to be fake.

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The solution is to optimize reviews to put the focus back on legitimate users. It’s important to ensure a seamless user experience and to take advantage of social connectivity, in order to increase the likelihood that a customer will trust an online review.

Curate the review experience

It’s not always simple to facilitate the review process, since it requires perfect timing and context. Otherwise, a user could skip the review process altogether or write a non-constructive review.

According to the Spiegel Research Center, customers are more likely to provide positive feedback when you ask them to write a review, so take advantage of this opportunity. Customers are more likely to complain or leave a negative review immediately after a bad experience, but most will not contribute a review after a good experience.

You will need to curate the user experience, of course, which involves analyzing the sales cycle to determine when the best time to ask for a review is. Should it be right after a sale, as an email follow-up, or as pop-up reminders? It might surprise you how users will differ in terms of their review preferences. The important consideration here is how your curation will bring out honest – and hopefully positive – opinions from customers.

Encourage balanced feedback

Consider it your main focus as an online business to capitalize on the positive reviews. However, this does not mean rejecting or suppressing any negative reviews outright. In fact, the presence of some negative reviews is viewed as a signal of honesty and transparency. Having a healthy ratio of negative reviews is usually an indicator that your brand is trustworthy enough to acknowledge its shortcomings and take constructive criticism in stride.

Presenting both sides of the story (good and bad) helps readers to establish better context when poring through customer reviewers. Otherwise, purely focusing on positive reviews doesn’t give the full picture and can lead to false conclusions – and sometimes, excessive expectations – about your product or service.

A practical tip: don’t show new customers what previous users have said before asking them to leave a review to avoid them being influenced – this ensures an honest opinion.

Leverage the power of social networks

Another way to combat fake reviews and user-submissions it to take advantage of social networks. Showing users their own friends who have left feedback can help increase trust, since consumers trust word-of-mouth from friends more than they trust reviews in general. Establish connections wherever these exist, and take advantage of the tools that social networks like Facebook and Twitter provide to businesses.

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Connecting your review platform to social networks will give you another advantage: users can share reviews on social media, which can help your product gain word-of-mouth mileage.

The takeaway: establish trust, not just reviews or ratings

When focusing on user-generated content as part of a content strategy, it’s important to ensure authenticity. Any content strategy that involves user submissions can be cheated or gamed, but if you can curate, leverage on social networks and encourage balance, then you can use user-generated content as an effective means of building trust around your brand.