How to Use Testimonials and Recommendations Legally
Feedback from customers is one of the best ways that you can build your business, and studies have shown that customers place as much emphasis on the reviews of other customers as they make personal recommendations. However, when using customer recommendations or testimonials you need to ensure that you comply with advertising rules, as well as making sure that you are aware of intellectual property issues around using content generated by your customers.
First, we’ll look at the benefits of using social media feedback and customer testimonials, and then we’ll examine advertising rules and how to disclose affiliations. Then we’ll look at user-generated content, and finally how to use testimonials legally. Ensure that you get the appropriate permission from your customers!
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Benefits of Using Customer Testimonials
Before we get started on how to use testimonials legally, let’s take a look at how effective they are. Testimonials are an excellent way to build new and potential customer confidence, and there is a significant amount of evidence showing that customers do care what other people think about your product.
A study conducted by Brightlocal in 2014 found that over 70% of customers trust a business more when they have read positive reviews about that business, and only 10% of clients don’t take notice of reviews at all. Here’s the graph from Brightlocal:
You can see that the influence of positive customer reviews has increased since 2011, which may indicate that consumers are becoming even more aware of reviews online, and taking them into account when making purchasing decisions.
The reason for this is called “social proof“: people assume that the actions and views of others are the “correct” way to do things, as we are influenced by group behaviour. So, if some people like your product, new or potential customers can relate to the stories that your established customers tell in their reviews, and new customers then feel more confident in their decision to use or try out your product.
Furthermore, it’s not just that reviews are convincing in their right – in fact, they are trusted nearly twelve times more than manufacturer descriptions and claims.
User reviews can also provide numerous SEO benefits, such as:
- creating new content for search engines to index in relation to your content,
- improving rankings for your product name,
- and increasing click-through ratios (when, for example, a rating out of 5 stars is displayed next to your product, customers are more likely to click on your product).
So now, we know recommendations and testimonials are effective. Let’s take a look at how to use them correctly.
How to Use Testimonials: Advertising Rules
The general rules in both jurisdictions are that you must:
- Disclose any relationship you have with the person who is endorsing you (e.g. they are your employee, or you have paid them to endorse you)
- Ensure that any endorsements are honest, and reflect the true experience of the endorser
- Not use misleading or deceptive endorsements
- Not twist the words of any endorsements to distort the endorser’s message
- Only use endorsements from bona fide users of your product or service
- Ensure that you get adequate substantiation, (including in some cases reliable scientific evidence) to support any claims made through endorsements
- Ensure that the endorsement is representative of a typical user experience
- Ensure that any experts endorsing your products have the necessary qualifications to back up their expertise
Let’s take a look at some examples of a few of those.
First, the #sponsored hashtag is commonly used to indicate that a product placement statement or endorsement has been paid for by the company that the endorsement is for. So if you pay someone to use and endorse your product, they could use the #sponsored hashtag on Twitter to disclose that fact. Here’s an example from @OurOrdinaryLife about a sponsored post paid for by Cottonelle:
Another common technique is to post an advertisement or endorsement that includes a disclaimer that the results are not typical. This can get you out of hot water if the endorsement has come from someone who has experienced a better-than-usual outcome from using your product. For example, if you are selling a weight-loss product and most people lose around 10lbs on your programme, but you have one customer who loses 200lbs, the endorsement or advertisement should include a statement saying “Results not typical” or similar. Here’s an example of what that might look like:
Now let’s take a look at the situation where you might like to use a review that has been posted on social media.
What About Testimonials Posted on Twitter and Facebook?
In all cases where you are using a review or testimonial, you are using something that is content generated by your user or customer. As the review is something that has been created by the customer, they (by default) own the intellectual property rights in that review.
You might be considering using screen captures of Twitter endorsements or Facebook reviews, but you should take care before you forge ahead. Twitter’s Terms of Service (ToS) state that while users retain ownership of the content they submit to Twitter, users also grant a licence for that content to be used by Twitter and other people. Take a look:
However, Twitter’s ToS also preserve the right of users to maintain copyright in their creative works, such as photographs they submit to Twitter.
In a 2013 case, Judge Alison Nathan ruled that “while Twitter’s terms of service allow the reposting and retweeting of users’ content, including images, it does not grant a license for commercial use.” In the UK, “literary works” are covered by copyright law, and there is no clear limit on how short a literary work can be (i.e. a Tweet could be a literary work). While copyrighted material can be used under the “fair use” exemption for education or commentary (such as this article), using a screen capture as a direct product endorsement without permission is unlikely to be considered “fair use”, and may be infringing the person’s intellectual property rights.
Also, take care when considering lifting reviews from dedicated review sites, such as Yelp. Many review sites state in their Terms that the content is owned by the user and licenced to the website, but not licenced for general use.
So while Twitter allows retweets on Twitter, it’s debatable whether that licence extends to using those Tweets outside of Twitter — but this problem is easy to solve: all you need to do is get permission from that customer first.
Facebook’s Terms of Service also state that the user retains rights in the content they post, but expects users to control access to that content by way of their privacy settings. Facebook’s ToS note that “when you publish content or information using the Public setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).” This could mean that reviews posted on Facebook publicly are fair game.
In any event, getting permission first is always a good step to take with regard to showing respect and consideration for your users, before you grab their reviews or testimonials and post them elsewhere. This is in line with CAP’s guidelines, which state that permission should be obtained from the person before using their testimonial in marketing communications. They note that the UK Advertising Standards Authority has previously upheld complaints where the marketer has not been able to prove that they had permission to use the testimonial.
Using testimonials and recommendations from customers doesn’t need to be complicated, but you do need to ensure that you are aware of relevant regulations and advertising rules. Don’t use testimonials to mislead potential customers, and ensure that you always get permission for using a customer’s endorsement of your product.
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