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!