The Art of the Testimonial: How to Gather, Publicize and Track Testimonials
By Karen Geier
Social media is all about word of mouth, but before there was social media, marketing campaigns used testimonials to help amplify positive word of mouth about products and services.
The testimonial has gone in and out of fashion, but it quickly became one of the reasons that people went online at the dawn of the internet. Sites worth billions of dollars got that way by providing unbiased testimonials of products that simply weren’t available anywhere else.
Then, the astroturfers moved in. PR firms and companies with a need to control bad reviews thought they could even the playing field using dirty tactics to make canned reviews from companies appear legitimate. This muddied the waters so much it caused lawsuits for some companies and led to a decline of leveraging testimonials.
People are still seeking out advice on everything from upcoming movies to dentists, though, and smart companies have learned how to leverage testimonials properly
Benefits of testimonials
Positive testimonials can persuade someone to purchase your product over a competitor’s, but even neutral or negative reviews could help your business. Often, negative reviews are caused by something out of the control of the company or simply a matter of taste (for instance: reviews of restaurants often complain about matters of personal taste such as music or lighting). Neutral testimonials are still useful to consumers because they often highlight the pluses and minuses of the product, and readers of neutral reviews, or reviews with some negatives are often rated “most helpful” due to their authenticity. You might not lead with neutral or negative reviews, but you shouldn’t let the fear of a negative review prevent your company from soliciting and leveraging testimonials.
Don’t try to hide negative reviews – get better testimonials
Just like your regrettable Facebook photos, bad reviews live forever online. Does this mean you should fear what people will say? It comes down to a basic principle: no two people ever agree on anything, and some people who write reviews are unreliable narrators.
How do you counter negative reviews? A two-step process is your best bet.
First, find a way to reach out to the wronged party and see if there is a way you can make their experience right. You may save the review, or get an updated review, which turns a loss into a big win. People will see your company as one that’s willing to be fair and transparent with customers
The next step to countering negative reviews is to solicit great testimonials. Search online or use a listening tool to find testimonials from normal consumers and keep a spreadsheet of these testimonials.
You can also reach out to influencers in your vertical market and ask them to review your product. There are a few caveats to this: you cannot compensate these influencers with anything more than free product – that’s to keep the testimonial “clean” and not considered a sponsored review; and you will have to allow those reviewers to review your product in their own way, which may include negative feedback.
If you’re not paying a reviewer, and he or she could possibly negatively review you, how can you control the situation? Communication.
Guiding the testimonial process
There are a few ways your company can keep some measure of control over the review process. The first method is to have a supervised review process. You can conduct these one-on-one with reviewers or with a group of reviewers at a time, similar to a focus group. The benefit is complete control over the experience – from which features you demonstrate, to what order the value propositions are delivered. The disadvantage of this method is that you might get a restrained, tepid review. Reviewers can be picky about their process, so you need to choose this review method wisely according to the personality of the reviewer.
The other method of guiding a review is to assign a point person to each reviewer who is available at a moment’s notice to answer reviewer questions. This can help you get through possible upsets to the review process, such as a malfunctioning product or incomplete instructions. It also allows your team to gather and compile pain points for you to solve and develop corrective messaging for.
Making the most of gathered testimonials
Once you have a mix of consumer and influencer testimonials you can use them in social media posts or as jumping off points for blog posts. You can include them in press releases or even use them in email campaigns, and ask for fans to submit their own.
Testimonials can help legitimize your product and help consumers get more comfortable with the idea of purchasing your product. Evangelical fans are great, but influencer testimonials are an asset too.