Social Media Debate: Ok To Pay For Testimonials?

Services for Real Estate Pros with Zillow

Ran into a social media topic that makes for an interesting debate.  Do you consider it a referral when someone gives you a testimonial, and should you financially compensate for this?

Background: I found the dentist I use today on Yelp.  I initially went to him because he had the most positive reviews on the site and because he was in my insurance plan.  My dentist is just okay.  I continue to go to him only because his location is so convenient for me and his office is nicely appointed. 

This weekend I received an email from the office saying that they consider reviews on Yelp and Citysearch like a testimonial.  If you give them a review a both sites and then send them an email showing that you have done this, they'll pay you their the typical $25 that they give out for a new customer referral.

At first I thought this was an interesting way to build an online reputation (as it is something I think is so important for agents to do).  Then I went to the sites and read what people are posting.  I think it is fascinating how smart and perceptive the general online community is at pulling out the truth. 

Of course there were tons of glowing reviews (deserved or not) for this office.  Would they pay you $25 for the reviews, if the reviews were bad?  I think there were a lot of people who weren't willing to risk the $25 loss. 

Today, there are reviews on the site with this flavor: "I am going to have to agree with several others on this site about the suspicious reviews for the Dental Salon..." 

To the dentist's credit of managing his online reputation, he left a lengthy note to response to some of the negative reviews and added "Some reviews have suggested that we have "fake" reviews on here or that we placed them ourselves.  This is not true and it is not fair to the people who took the time to review our business." 

Of course, it was only a matter of time before this comment was left: "I think Yelp needs to keep the business owners off of here. How else are we supposed to comment freely?"  I don't agree with this at all.  If you are going to talk about a particular business, that business should be able to respond, as long as everything is done is a completely transparent environment.  The public has a right to hear both sides of the story.  

So what do you think?  Right to offer financial reward for a testimonial?  Is a testimonial the same as a referral? 

Pros: If you read the reviews, you'll see that a lot of people chose this dentist because he overwhelmingly has the most reviews on Yelp and a majority of them are positive.

Cons: You could be rewarding people to write bogus positive reviews when they aren't deserved, and thus skewing your ratings.  If this compensation arrangement becomes exposed on the site, it could undo the integrity of the other positive reviews.

Personally, I did not write a review because I can't in good conscience give them 5 out of 5 stars (I would probably give about 2.5).  Now that I know how closely they are monitoring the boards, I don't want a review to affect my future relationship with my dentist!

The Dental Salon on Yelp

The Dental Salon on Citysearch

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Josef Katz
Digital and Direct Response Marketing - Manhattan, NY
{Marketing Maestro}

A very interesting topic.  I think testimonials have to be done out of the goodness of the person's heart and can not (legally - I could be wrong) be rewarded financially.  Referrals are a different story but I don't see those sites as referral programs.  If your dentist gave you a $25 discount because you sent a friend to them cool but to pay for someone to write about their service under the guise of a review seems less than ethical.

Dec 01, 2008 07:48 AM #1
Sara Bonert
Zillow - Atlanta, GA
Real Estate Internet Marketing

I totally agree that there seems to be something shady about it.  However, the guys  has gotten business because of it... Shady or smart to work a system that no other dentist in Chicago is doing?

I think there is a good marketing plan here, the excution just needs to be adjusted.

Dec 01, 2008 08:10 AM #2
Barbara-Jo Roberts Berberi, MA, PSA, TRC - Greater Clearwater Florida Residential Real Estate Professional
Charles Rutenberg Realty - Clearwater, FL
Palm Harbor, Dunedin, Clearwater, Safety Harbor

Paying for testimonials? Are you kidding me? If I can't print things that my clients have to say about how we operate I might as well hang my license and look for another job!

Dec 01, 2008 04:34 PM #3
Stephen D White, E-Pro, ABR Cape Cod Real Estate
SDW Realty of Cape Cod - Falmouth, MA

Sara I have testimonials on my AR profile written by actual clients after having actual successful real estate relationships with them. Why would I need to pay someone to write a testimonial unless it wasnt true? To me paying for a testimonial doesnt sound like its legit!

Dec 02, 2008 03:15 AM #4
Craig Rutman
Helping people in transition - Cary, NC
Raleigh, Cary, Apex area Realtor

I personally don't think that anyone should be paid for giving a testimonial. It only creates an unfair bias. It's akin to politicians who are in the pockets of special interest groups who donate money to push their agendas.

Testimonials will come with good service.

Dec 03, 2008 07:32 AM #5
Stefan Scholl
Buyer's Broker of Northern Michigan, LLC - Petoskey, MI
Northern Michigan Real Estate


You have touched on a fascinating topic, one which I have thought about quite a bit lately.  I am always reading the reviews when I buy something online--computer hardware, electronic gadgets, clothing, etc.  It is only natural that people seek out reviews when it comes to professional services.  I see testimonials and reviews as being quite different.  I don't think many people would post a critical testimonial on their own website, but with the third party websites (I am not familiar with Yelp but it sounds like this is a site where professionals are reviewed) there is a loss of control over "reviews" which is kind of scary to think about.

What happens if someone with an axe to grind submits a bogus review on you under a fictitious name?  What if a psycho client decides to launch an online attack!  I don't suppose you can tell Yelp to only publish the favorable reviews.  The prospect of opening up reviews to any anonymous hack with too much time on their hands is unsettling.  I don't think we have even scratched the surface on this topic.

Does Zillow provide a real estate agent review feature?  Just curious.



Dec 04, 2008 02:55 PM #6
Sara Bonert
Zillow - Atlanta, GA
Real Estate Internet Marketing

Stefan -  Thanks for comment.  No, Zillow does not have a real estate agent rating feature. 

Your concerns are valid and shared by many when opening up to social media in this way.  However, I think agent rating sites and features are getting ready to explode online in 2010.  Zip Realty recently launched their own system, and was one of the first brokerages to do so.  No word yet on how it is going.  Reputation management is going to be CRITICAL. 

I totally get your concerns, but I fully believe in community policing.  Responsible site shouldn't take off bad reviews, but they should be responsible for maliciously and factually wrong reviews.  The community will work out the rest or see thru the crap that some ill willed people may put out there. 

In a nutshell, here is how I feel about agent rating services:  It will be an awesome thing for the good and great agents.  It will be a terrible thing for the bad agents. 

Dec 05, 2008 06:40 AM #7
Colleen Cooley
The Corcoran Group - Jupiter, FL
CRS - Jupiter Florida

Nothing like a "real" happy customer!

Dec 05, 2008 06:48 AM #8
Lee & Pamela St. Peter
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices YSU Realty: (919) 645-2522 - Raleigh, NC
Making Connections to Success in Real Estate

Great topic of debate Sara - but as a realtor we can't pay for anything! Referrals, testomonials - nothing!  But I agree with Stephen - do your work right and you don't have to pay, they come honestly.

Your Raleigh Realtors

Dec 05, 2008 07:19 AM #9
Regina P. Brown
MBA Broker Consultants - Carlsbad, CA
M.B.A., Broker, Instructor

Sara, NO!  Referrals should never be compensated.  and YES the businesses should be able to respond to complaints, etc.

Join my NEW group for professionals who work from their home office at

Regina P. Brown
Allison James Estates & Homes

Dec 05, 2008 06:02 PM #10
Heather Goodwin
Licensed by the Louisiana Real Estate Commission - Shreveport, LA
GoodWin Team Realty

No, I don't think paying for comments on a website is very ethical.  Of course the people will say positive things for $25.00.  Seems like you went to him because of all these positive comments, but ended up only rating him at 2.5.  What does that tell you?

Dec 06, 2008 12:35 PM #11
Tim and Pam Cash
Crye-Leike (Sango) - Clarksville, TN
Real Estate Professionals - Clarksville TN

Under no circumstances should you ever pay for testimonials.  I am sure that this happens, but not by me.  We certainly ask our clients to write a testimonial, but not until after the transaction is complete and without any gift or form of payment.

Dec 06, 2008 01:37 PM #12
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