Study Finds Paying For Online Reviews Leads To Fewer Reviews

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Rewarding people with cash has generally been a good way to motivate them to do things they are otherwise not obligated to do, but a new study claims that when you offer folks money for writing online reviews, it can backfire and result in fewer overall reviews.

A study by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder and Santa Clara University aimed to shed light on whether or not companies would benefit by paying customers to review their products and services. The report, which will appear in the journal Marketing Science, found that paying for reviews was simply a bad idea.

In fact, the researchers found that paying users quashes the number of reviews on social platforms, especially among users who are socially well-connected and likely to be more influential.

The study examined user response to the introduction of a monetary payment program by a social shopping platform in China. The platform, which is now defunct, had previously relied on voluntarily contributed product reviews, but became concerned when these contributions declined over time.

In an effort to drum up reviews, the platform began offering a monetary reward for each product review posted. The compensation came in the form of a cash-equivalent community credit worth approximately $0.25, redeemable at all affiliated sellers.

According to the study, a month after introducing the payment system, the number of reviews on the site declined by over 30%.

But why? Turns out, according to the report, that customers with a large social media following believed that their honest reviews could now be interpreted by their peers as simply driven by the motivation to make money, even when that wasn’t the case.

“Nobody wants to be seen as a paid shill for brands, so the users with more friends and followers, who were likely more influential and wrote more originally, are the ones who stop writing,” author Xiaojing Dong said in a statement.

Specifically, the researchers found that reviews from “socialites” — those with more than five friends on the network — dropped nearly 90% when a monetary incentive was publicly offered for evaluations.

Conversely, those with no friends on the network increased their reviews 1,400% per month.

“The increase in reviews from the loners however does little to offset the massive drop among the socialites, who are the heavy contributors overall,” the report notes.

“Our results support the approach of industry leaders like Yelp or Amazon, who do not compensate for reviews,” author Shelby McIntyre said in a statement, adding that there may still be ways to provide compensation “under the radar,” but such a tactic would be risky and could be perceived as unfair by other reviewers.