Review Incentive Policy Community Memo & Updates

TL;DR

  • Several pay-per-review incident reports.  We have become aware of several vendors have been offering pay-per-review without knowing that this is against HTR’s incentive guidelines
  • This is against HTR’s guidelines and the rules of the awards.  While this is a level I infraction (least severe), it is still against HTR’s policies and therefore not permitted, in violation of the rules of the 2022 HotelTechAwards
  • Penalties for current HotelTechAwards competition. Vendors caught in breach of this policy will have the reviews from the trailing 30-days be unpublished and will not be counted towards the HotelTechAwards competition as it is against the rules
  • Several vendors have claimed not to be aware of this aspect of the incentive policy.  Several vendors have pointed out that the confusion lies in the fact that other review sites do permit this type of pay-per-review incentive
  • Implications for incentives on the community.  While these reviews are against the rules of the awards competition and HTR’s incentive guidelines, HTR will amend its policy effective January 15, 2021 to permit pay-per-review with fair disclosure in accordance with FTC guidelines.  Incentivized reviews will be clearly designated in the UI and ratings will not factor into overall averages.

HTR Vendor Community,

It has come to our attention that a handful of vendors were unaware of HTR’s policy not to allow direct incentive reviews on Hotel Tech Report so we wanted to reach out to all vendors and clarify HTR’s policies about incentivized reviews to make sure there is no confusion.

Overview of Current Policies & Perspectives on Incentivized Reviews

Since inception, HTR’s policies around incentivized reviews have remained the same which can be found in more detail via the help center.  In summary, HTR’s perspective and stance on incentivized reviews to date has been: 

  1. Reviewing B2B software is not the same as consumer goods.  When a guest is reviewing their hotel on TripAdvisor for example there are intrinsic motivations like scrap booking to catalogue their journeys, building online clout/credibility or sharing an experience with friends.  Reviewing B2B software is quite different in nature and carries lower intrinsic motivation which is why incentives are a helpful tool to gather more feedback and foster knowledge sharing.  Incentivizing a review of B2B software is similar to paying for a survey completion - compensating for a busy individual’s professional time without biasing the content of feedback.
  2. Incentives as a way to thank customers are encouraged.  Incentives are common in the B2B review space.  Companies are asking their users to take time out of a busy work day to help with their sales and marketing by advocating for their product. As such, offering an incentive is not only acceptable but we actually encourage it.  So much so that we even subsidize incentives for Premium Members and have an incentive matching program for basic members
  3. Outreach may never be phrased in a way that introduces bias.  While incentives are encouraged, there are obviously guidelines to follow to ensure that the way the incentive is phrased to the user does not introduce bias into their review.  Specifically, to date HTR has outlined several permitted and not permitted scenarios which vary in level of severity and of which examples can be found below:


Scenario

Explicit bias

Implicit bias

Policy

Infraction Level

1) Randomized giveaway

No

No

✅  Allowed

None

2) Limited giveaway

No

No

✅  Allowed

None

3) Pay-per-review

No

Yes

❌  Not allowed

Level I

4) Pay-per-POSITIVE review

Yes

Yes

❌  Not allowed

Level II


Vendor Infractions & Penalties for Pay-Per-Review

There have been three separate occurrences of vendors in the community being reported for pay-per-review (scenario 3) which is a level 1 infraction but none-the-less, an infraction and against the rules of the HotelTechAwards.  Since the inception of the annual HotelTechAwards four years ago, the rules have explicitly stated that direct pay-per-review is not permitted.  The reported incidents were Level I infractions (scenario 3) and were not found to introduce explicit bias.  Given that there have been several occurrences all claiming that the nuances of the permitted incentives were not clear--vendors identified will not be immediately disqualified from the competition however they will incur the following penalties:

  1. Vendor will have 72-hours to respond to the violation report and show that they have corrected their outreach messaging with screenshot evidence
  2. Reviews collected within 30-days of the correction will be unpublished and will not count towards the annual HotelTechAwards competition.
  3. Vendors who have been reported for breaching this guideline will be marked under close watch for up to 90-days where their account will be monitored closely and reviews will appear in a separate moderation queue where moderators will keep a closer eye on activity.
  4. Vendors in breach will only be permitted to collect reviews via the Review Manager in the dashboard for 45-days where HTR can more closely monitor their activity and outreach strategy
  5. Vendors will receive a strike meaning that any future incidents will incur more severe immediate level II penalties without option to cure


Future Amendments to HTR’s Incentive Policies

Vendors have shared 3 main reasons for the confusion around review compensation rules on the site: (a) HTR allows indirect incentives/giveaways (b) pay-per-review is permitted by other review websites and (c) pay-per-review is common in the B2B reviews space.  

Despite these points, HTR’s current (and historical) policies don’t permit pay-per-review (only randomized giveaways).  After discussing with hoteliers and vendors, we have found the consensus belief that pay-per-review should be permitted if certain conditions are met to disclose incentives to website visitors and hotel tech buyers.

The general governing body for online reviews and issues around consumer affairs is the FTC, which states the following:

  • “Knowing that reviewers got the product they reviewed for free would probably affect the weight your customers give to the reviews”
  • “reviewers given free products might give the products higher ratings on a scale like the number of stars than reviewers who bought the products.”
  • “If you've given these customers a reason to expect a benefit from providing their thoughts about your product, you should disclose that fact in your ads.”
  • “If you’re offering them something of value in return for these reviews, tell them in advance that they should disclose what they received from you.”

In light of community feedback and FTC guidelines, HTR will amend our policies after the current year awards competition to allow for direct incentives when there is fair disclosure (effective January 15th, 2022).  Disclosures will be incorporated into the hotel tech buyer user experience on the Hotel Tech Report platform.  So how will this work?

  • The write a review form will include a field for hoteliers to indicate whether direct compensation has been offered for their product feedback
  • Vendors will have a toggle in their dashboard indicating when they are running a pay per review campaign (on or off platform)
  • Vendors found to be running direct incentive campaigns without using the toggle will have all reviews within 6-months of the incident report immediately marked as ‘incentivized’
  • Directly incentivized reviews will NOT count towards the quantitative ratings averages.  Their volumes will count towards the average review thresholds and geographic targets, however, ratings like customer support, ease of use, etc. will not be included in overall ratings in order to ensure “apples to apples” comparisons amongst all vendors for buyers without the possibility of potential bias

Conclusion

Ultimately, incentives are a positive and encouraged mechanism to thank customers for their time, effort and expertise but all endorsements must reflect the honest opinions or experiences of the endorser (Source: FTC Endorsement Guides).  

Therefore while HTR will be expanding its incentive guidelines to permit direct incentive reviews, these reviews will carry a clear designation to consumers about the nature of the incentive.  Additionally, companies who have been in breach of this rule to date will receive penalties commensurate with their breach to ensure that (a) the behavior is immediately corrected and (b) reviews collected in this manner will not be counted towards the 2022 HotelTechAwards competition but will not be deleted fully from the site as they will be re-added after the competition is over with the new incentivized review designation.