Is Amazon’s New Review Policy Detrimental to Social Media Marketing?
Amazon, like many retailers today, is highly focused on gaining buyer reviews, and to that end, promotes the use of reviews throughout the visitor's experience before and after the purchase -- but there is indication Amazon has taken a renewed interest in enforcing their review policies.
Blogger Imy Santiago quotes a message she received from Amazon recently when she attempted to post a book review, which Amazon refused. After asking for clarity on their refusal, Amazon responded in part, "We cannot post your Customer Review for [book title redacted] by [author name redacted] to the Amazon website because your account activity indicates that you know the author." Santiago wrote again and in a follow-up response, Amazon added "Due to the proprietary nature of our business, we do not provide detailed information on how we determine that accounts are related."
Is Amazon using an algorithmic assessment of authors' online activities or social connections to evaluate a potential relationship with a reviewer? If so, does this new policy guarantee honest reviews or does it hinder the social-media marketing efforts of authors and publishers?
One of the most-effective ways to promote a book or author is through social networking. This often means massive email campaigns, social-media paid advertisements, Google AdWords, PR campaigns, publicity events, and other marketing efforts specifically designed to amass an online following -- a long-term channel for future promotions.
Many publishers consider the size of an author's social following when offering contracts and negotiating book advances. The number of an author's engaged followers can mean the difference between getting a book deal with an advance, or not. This is monetary impetus for authors to build their social network before searching for a publisher. Similarly, many publishers are investing time and resources into helping authors develop their social followings.
Large social networks and copious positive reviews isn't just a preference of the publisher -- it's considered throughout the entire marketing lifecycle. Book promotion websites typically require a certain number of positive reviews on Amazon and may also give preference to those with a large following. Though not all book-promotion websites have a minimum requirement for number of reviews or followers, many do. Customer reviews, ratings, and social comments are used to help site editors get a sense of how readers are responding to a book, and use this to choose which books to promote.
Authors and publishers often provide complimentary copies of books to social network followers in hope of gaining reviews and extending their marketing reach. If Amazon's proprietary method is determining which of the author's reviewers is considered a friend or family member based upon relationships identified through these same social networks, this could spell doom for at least a portion of the publishers' social-marketing strategy.
Creating an algorithm to ferret out positive reviews written by persons in an author's network implies it's impossible for someone following the author to write an unbiased review. Yet my experience is the best and most critical feedback often comes from those closest to my work. One cannot question positive reviews and their sources without also questioning the source of negative reviews.
People with personal grudges against an author are less likely to be a member of the author's social network, which could mean his or her negative review will carry more weight -- especially if positive reviews are denied or removed because of perceived relationships. Adversaries are less likely to have read the author's work, but because the algorithm is not able to find an existing friendship, the scales are tipped decidedly against the author.
Though there is risk in customers becoming disenchanted with the review system if they find positive reviews to be misleading on the whole, initially one would think positive reviews would lead to exactly the behavior Amazon seeks: a sale. In the case of negative reviews, Amazon is more likely to lose the sale -- and the same disenchantment risk exists. Is equal emphasis being put upon on solving the problem of fake negative reviews?
It's impossible to use Amazon's site at all without either having reviews presented to you, or being asked to provide one once you've purchased. With such emphasis placed on user reviews during the buying experience, it is no surprise the forging of positive reviews is big business. A quick search at Fiverr.com for Amazon reviews and you will find hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of people willing to write a review for your product or book for a fee -- in direct violation of all of Amazon's stated policies. Amazon is cracking down here too.
In April 2015, Amazon filed a lawsuit challenging fake review sites, the first of which was against Jay Gentile, operator of buyazonreviews.com, and a number of other "John Does" who operate similar sites. Clearly Amazon encourages reviews to be written by neutral third parties, but the new question is whether a connection between an author and a follower on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram indicates an actual "friendship," thus disqualifying them from permissible reviews? Clearly, not everyone in authors' various social following are "friends" in the traditional sense.
Promotional Reviews - In order to preserve the integrity of Customer Reviews, we do not permit artists, authors, developers, manufacturers, publishers, sellers or vendors to write Customer Reviews for their own products or services, to post negative reviews on competing products or services, or to vote on the helpfulness of reviews. For the same reason, family members or close friends of the person, group, or company selling on Amazon may not write Customer Reviews for those particular items. [emphasis added]
-Source: Amazon Customer Review Creation Guidelines
Santiago's experience comes on the heels of Amazon's policy change for Kindle Unlimited (KU) and the Kindle Owners' Lending Library (KOLL) programs announced in June. Beginning July 1, publishers and authors receive payment only for the number of pages read by KU and KOLL customers instead for the entire book.
Given Amazon has made no such announcement regarding reviews, it's difficult to say if they have formalized a new approach to verifying book reviews or this is an isolated case. Jas Ward, a self-published author of five books, isn't taking chances. He has challenged Amazon by sponsoring an online petition at Change.org. Amassing nearly 13,000 signatures in its first week-using social media to spread the word-the petition is raising author awareness of and ire over the issue.
Cyndie Shaffstall is Founder and CEM of Lakewood, Col.-based marketing services and training provider Spider Trainers.
Email marketing is the most effective way to increase sales, improve service, and keep your customers engaged. Email campaigns are best bolstered through an integrated strategy that crosses channels and meets your constituents where they congregate and in the media they prefer. “The Integrated Email” provides best practices and ideas for developing strategies and deploying email campaigns and initiatives while keeping an eye on revenue attributable to marketing.
Cyndie Shaffstall, founder, Spider Trainers, is a successful entrepreneur and prolific author, with many books, dozens of eBooks, and hundreds of articles to her credit. She is the former founder of ThePowerXChange, editor and publisher of X-Ray Magazine, and the current founder and managing member of Spider Trainers, a managed automated email services provider for companies around the world. Connect with Cyndie on LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, or join her LinkedIn Group, the Marketing Resource Library for daily links to marketing-critical resources.