"Super reviewers" on such sites as Yelp, Amazon and Epinions are increasingly being rewarded for the hundreds of reviews the post - with parties, with elite status, and other incentives such as upgrades or free rooms at hotels. Certainly there are intangible benefits these reviews get from their labors - such as the recognition from readers and pride in their work. "We now see the power of positive feedback for many people," said Clay Shirky, professor of interactive telecommunications at New York University. "We call them super reviewers, not obsessive reviewers, because they are largely held in a positive light by the public. Also, there is the 'red carpet' status of being in that elite group that many find attractive." (via the Seattle Times).
But as the benefits - and pressures - become more pointed for these reviews, doubts about their impartiality among readers are growing. For instance, hotels are actively trying to connect data dots to identify anonymous commenters. Once the hotel has identifying information in hand it might thank the poster for the good review - perhaps with a gift basket. In the case of a negative review, it might send an email asking for either a reconsideration or a chance to readdress what was wrong with the person's stay, according to the Washington Post. Most ominously, the Post said, a negative review could earn a poster a black mark in the guest database. Such tactics, though - on both extremes - could backfire against the industry.
Efforts by the hotel to pressure a guest to remove a negative review - or reward a guest for a positive one - would be seen as fraudulent by both TripAdvisor and consumers, says April Robb, a spokeswoman for TripAdvisor. (via the Post).
To a certain extent the industry - and consumers - are accepting the notion that fans should be paid for the loyalty and promotion. Brands such as Starbucks and Dominos are pushing the concept of location-based marketing a little further with hard incentives. Starbucks has introduced its first-ever national mayor special with Foursquare that rewards consumers - specifically, mayors that have checked in to the Foursquare location-based network at Starbucks outlets - with dollar discounts on frappucinos. In the UK, Dominos has a Foursquare promotion running that offers free pizzas and discounts to Foursquare users who check in at its locations. Another example is Tasti D-Lite, which has rolled out TastiRewards, a rewards program for customers to associate their Twitter and Foursquare accounts with their Tasti D-Lite membership cards.
Still it is a mistake to pay people to like you online because it minimizes the sought-after influence factor, writes Patricio Robles at eConsultancy. "After all, if everyone knows a particular person was basically given free product with the not-so-subtle expectation that he or she would probably say nice things, any related recommendations made to friends and followers aren't likely to carry the same weight as recommendations made by real paying customers."
The irony, of course, is that as more and more companies buy them, more and more consumers will learn to ignore those voices just as they have learned to ignore traditional paid advertising, she concluded.