Great Suggestion for Friends & Family Reviews on Amazon…?

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Background image from ShutterStock.


Friend and family reviews are a touchy subject among both authors and customers:

  • For the customer review system to be effective, customers need to be able to trust the system. This is why Amazon removes and blocks reviews suspected of being posted by the author’s friends or family members.
  • For the customer who posted the review, having it blocked or removed is time wasted, and discourages the customer from posting reviews in the future.
  • For the self-published author, an invaluable part of marketing entails creating personal relationships. Sometimes, the occasional personal interactions with a fan who didn’t previously know the author causes a book review to be blocked or removed.
  • Unlike the big publishers, self-published authors and indie presses can’t afford to send out hundreds of review copies to strangers. They can get friends to help get the ball rolling, except that friend reviews often get blocked, and they can interact with their target audience in person, although that sometimes leads to blocked reviews, too.
  • Amazon itself thrives on content engagement, one of their best marketing tools. Amazon wants to get customers (and authors) to frequently return to their website. Blocking or removing reviews discourages customers from writing future reviews, which limits their content engagement.
  • Although Amazon frequently blocks and removes 4- and 5-star reviews, Amazon almost never removes a 1- or 2-star review, which brings the average star rating down and discourages sales overall. It allows jealous authors and spiteful exes to prevent sales of books at Amazon that may otherwise sell.

Lighthouse24, a member of the CreateSpace community forum who provides frequent helpful posts, offers a great compromise. (Check out Lighthouse’s website for Helpful Links with valuable self-publishing info.)

  • Instead of blocking or removing the review, Amazon should keep the review, but clearly mark it as having detected a possible relationship with the author.
  • Let each individual customer decide how that matters to them. Some customers may see that designation and discard the review completely, a few may feel disgusted and move on, but in this way, Amazon would let the customer make the decision. Other customers won’t be put off by the designation, and may appreciate the comments. Yet other customers will approach those designated reviews cautiously. One thing we know is that every customer interprets reviews in a different way. So why not let each customer choose what to do with a potential friend or family review?
  • In addition to clearly marking such reviews as being from customers with potential relationships with the author, they could separate those reviews so they show in a slightly different area (perhaps one set above the other, or a different column) so that customers can easily tell the difference.
  • There is a precedent at Goodreads, which allows reviews from friends and family, but which clearly denotes reviews from friends. Surely, Amazon could do this, too.
  • Amazon could first give the customer the opportunity to disclose the relationship, then mark the review as a Family Review, Friend Review, or Fan Review, for example. If the customer doesn’t check one of these boxes, Amazon could then include a note that they discovered a possible relationship with the author and give that review yet another name (e.g. Reviewer May Know the Author).

This would solve a few key problems with the current customer review system:

  • Customers would see that X number of reviews were left by friends or family members. This is disclosed up front. Presently, customers assume that some reviews are from friends and family, without knowing how many, and customers don’t realize that most of those are actually blocked and removed. With full disclosure, customers will begin to realize that Amazon can often tell the difference.
  • Indie authors and small publishers won’t be so disadvantaged compared to big publishers who can send out hundreds of advance review copies. Amazon does want to give indie authors a fair chance, which is why indie authors now have pre-orders, AMS ads for KDP Select, and other new features that used to be only available for big publishers.
  • Amazon will enhance their customer engagement, i.e. have more activity on their website, which is one of their top marketing strategies. Customers won’t be discouraged by having their reviews removed, and thus will be more likely to post reviews in the future.
  • Authors who put the personal touch on their marketing, meeting new people in their target audience, won’t be penalized when Amazon discovers a possible relationship with the author, when in fact that customer had previously been a complete stranger until interacting with the author as a fan.
  • By not blocking and removing so many 4- and 5-star reviews, this would help to achieve a more balanced picture, and limit the effectiveness of jealous authors or spiteful exes striving to prevent a book from selling.

Lighthouse24 recommends that both authors and customers who like this idea should share this suggestion with Amazon. Sounds like a good plan to me.

Write happy, be happy. ๐Ÿ™‚

Chris McMullen

Copyrightย ยฉ 2015

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

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43 comments on “Great Suggestion for Friends & Family Reviews on Amazon…?

  1. That is an interesting system. My only worry would be people seeing the designations and thinking the author is trying to pad their review scores. That might just be paranoia, but I see fights like that break out all the time. Still, this would be a great compromise. Would there be a way to prove you don’t know the author if you get the designation?

    • That’s quite possible, but then it would be just like now. Authors who know they won’t show up don’t try to recruit such reviews. The only difference is that Amazon would let some authors shoot themselves in the foot. Those authors would feel less frustrated by not having lost or missing reviews. They may instead feel frustrated with fewer sales. Many authors would actually accept this trade-off…

      I think a selling point for this would be (A) Amazon wouldn’t have to police reviews and (B) Amazon wouldn’t have to deal with complaints about missing reviews. That could save much manpower, time, and effort. Trying to deal with those who want to remove the designation would offset this possible selling point. I think it would be hard to prove, so probably the better thing is to simply let the customer know about it, and the customer can choose to remove the review if they don’t like the designation. That’s a good point, one they would have to consider before implementing this.

  2. Sounds like a good plan. Anything’s got to be better than what we have now. I seriously think twice now about posting a review if its an author I have got to know through my blog. That’s not good.

    • They don’t publish that information, so as not to make it easy for anyone to abuse the system. One likely way is to cross-reference the customer’s and author’s accounts for a common IP address.

  3. I think one of the key points that is made Chris is that Indie authors do sell their books in a different way to mainstream authors. Not just from a budget perspective but because we network. This builds communities and groups of like minded people who are an important part of our readership.. Do they not have a right to comment and review the books that they have paid good money for? As to the hundreds or even thousands of reviews that are on a mainstream author’s sites… If we all had the time I would be interested to review each one of those and find out just how many are genuine. Amazon is playing lip service to this when it should be thinking of creative ways to sell our books.

  4. Hi! Got to you through Chris The Story Reading Ape (one of my favorites). I reblogged on Just Can’t Help Writing and will tweet to Amazon. Thanks for the info and idea.

  5. A great compromise. Now if only Amazon will adopt it or something similar we might get back on track. They’re way off line by removing reviews from people it thinks have a relationship who actually don’t and then won’t reinstate them.

    • It would be great if they could avoid those casualties, i.e. the cases where the reader hadn’t had any prior relationship with the author and who became an interactive fan. They should encourage such interaction.

  6. Pingback: Great Suggestion for Friends & Family Reviews onย Amazonโ€ฆ? | oshriradhekrishnabole

  7. Good ideas. They would definitely need to clarify what counts as friends for them. I think most of us are followed in Twitter by many authors we might know little to nothing about or belong to large groups where we wouldn’t even have come in contact with most of the other people. It’s true that you cannot encourage people to be active in social media and then penalise them if they’re effective in their efforts at making contact. Let’s see…

    • It varies. For authors who have dozens of reviews, it’s a minor thing. But there are very many books with just a couple of reviews, especially in niche markets, where a couple of missing reviews could make a big impact.

      This issue comes up a lot (weekly) on the KDP community forum, though when the author is aware of the issue it’s usually because the reviewer is a friend, family, or coworker.

      The more critical cases may be when the author has personally interacted with someone he/she didn’t know previously, but then through the online interactions a relationship with the author is discovered. Authors are only aware of a few of these occurrences (only when the reviewer happens to contact the author to let him/her know), so it’s probably more common than authors realize.

      • Since I made this comment, murphy’s law, two of my readers comment have been rejected or just not published. One isn’t even on social media so no idea why his was refused.

  8. Pingback: Promotion matters: ARAD and ARGS | curtisbaussebooks

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