Facebook comments as “reviews”

Reviews are powerful marketing tools. From making dinner reservations to buying a new pair of shoes, I very rarely part with my hard-earned cash before checking out the ratings and comments online. I also follow quite a few restaurants, designers, photographers, and fitness bloggers on Facebook, and often see people leave reviews there, too. But what can a business actually do with those comments? And if you leave a review on a company’s Facebook page, what are your rights over what you’ve written?

Public posts on  Facebook.
Facebook’s terms of service are clear that when a user publishes content or information using the “public” setting – such as a review – they are allowing everyone to access and use that information. It also allows for the content to be associated with the user specifically (i.e., by using their name and profile picture).

This is a helpful starting point, but Facebook’s terms of service are essentially a contract between Facebook and the reviewer, and not a contract between a particular seller (restaurant, entrepreneur, designer, company, etc. ) and the reviewer. As such, a reviewer could object to a seller re-posting their comments elsewhere. From the perspective of the seller, this is likely to cause inconvenience, and potentially cost time and money which can easily be avoided.

Recommended Approach
Although public Facebook comments are in the public domain as noted above, we would advise a seller to seek out the reviewer’s explicit permission before using their comment as a testimonial on another website for marketing purposes.

Do obtain permission, a seller should get in touch directly with positive reviewers, thanking them for their review, and simply ask whether they will allow use of their review on another platform. If permission is granted via Facebook messenger or another form of written communication, the seller would also have a chain of evidence to prove permission, in compliance with the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) guidelines. Maintaining this evidence is important, as regulators have in the past upheld complaints from users where businesses have been unable to prove they had consent to use particular comments.

Once permission to use the reviews is obtained, a seller should not change the words of any endorsements or otherwise distort the reviewer’s message. It is also best practice for the seller to ensure the authenticity of any reviews, and only use endorsements from verified purchasers (members, subscribers, etc).

Another thing to mention is that using a reviewer’s full name in the testimonial may constitute personal data under the Data Protection Act 1998. A seller could shorten the individual’s name when re-using their review, to avoid any potential data protection issues. For example, reviews could be attributed to a shortened name and location such as: “Tabitha R., Scotland.” This approach may also lead to more people giving their permission to use their reviews on your website, as they will not be as easily identifiable.

In any event, if you’re a seller or business using Facebook to market your product or services, it’s always prudent to incorporate a disclaimer onto your Facebook page, as well as any website. As an individual posting reviews online, don’t forget that what you write on someone’s page may end up somewhere else.

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