There has been news coverage lately about the potential for litigation that could result from consumers posting comments online. In my experience, it’s rare for a company to take this drastic action.
This year marks my 18th year in the consumer-reviews business. To me, the idea of consumer reviews has always been clear: Americans have the right to free and honest expression, and we shouldn’t shy away from exercising that right.
Consumers are increasingly turning online first when considering a purchase or a hire. But this isn’t new behavior.. We relied on the opinions of others long before the Internet became such a routine part of our every day. We just got that information through face-to-face conversation. Those same conversations occur online, but at a faster pace and among a much wider audience. It’s clear that reliance on online consumer reviews will increase in the future, not decline.
As our reliance on these reviews grows, so does our responsibility to offer reviews that consumers can trust. But carrying out this responsibility isn’t as difficult as it might seem.
Consumers need to provide honest opinions based on facts. Companies like mine need to lead the way on accountability. That means an end to anonymous reviews. Anonymous reviews don’t carry the heft of reviews that are given by people who stand behind the words; they might even encourage consumers to drift beyond honest opinion and the facts.
Congress should adopt federal legislation to increase the barrier for lawsuits aimed at stifling free speech, and specifically protect consumer reviews. They are matters of public interest and deal with issues of public concern. A majority of states have adopted anti-SLAPP laws, designed to weed out strategic lawsuits against public participation, but the protection of the individual differs in depending on the state law. Every person offering honest opinion and facts should be protected against efforts designed to silence them.
Just as I encourage consumers to share their honest experiences, I encourage companies to embrace the concept of online reviews. They are great, immediate customer surveys. They provide insights into how businesses actually deliver service, not how they think they deliver it.
It’s simple really: Consumer reviews should serve to improve the level of customer service that consumers receive, whether it’s healthcare, home improvement or anything in between. It’s up to all of us to make these reviews as reliable as possible.
Angie Hicks, founder, Angie’s List, Indianapolis, Ind.