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Friendly reminder to businesses: it is ILLEGAL to lie about fake reviews

If you offer incentives in order to receive reviews from your consumers, you must disclose this fully and completely or face penalty from the FTC.

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Fake reviews are more than just unethical

The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) recent intervention serves as a friendly reminder to businesses: if you compensate consumers for reviewing your product or service, you must disclose this compensation. AmeriFreight, an automobile shipment broker based in Peachtree City, Georgia, has agreed to a settlement with the FTC that will halt the company’s allegedly deceptive practice of touting online customer reviews, while failing to disclose that the reviewers were compensated with discounts and incentives.

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The FTC’s complaint marks the first time the agency has charged a company with misrepresenting online reviews by failing to disclose that it gave cash discounts to customers to post the reviews. Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection stated, “companies must make it clear when they have paid their customers to write online reviews. If they fail to do that then they’re deceiving consumers, plain and simple.”

AmeriFreight is an automobile shipment broker that arranges the shipment of consumers’ cars through third-party freight carriers. Its website claims the company had “more highly ranked ratings and reviews than any other company in the automotive transportation business.” As part of its advertising, it encouraged consumers to “Google us ‘bbb top rated car shipping.’ You don’t have to believe us, our consumers say it all.” Due to these statements, AmeriFreight and its owner, Marius Lehmann, violated Section 5 of the FTC Act by failing to disclose that they compensated consumers for their online reviews. Specifically, according to the complaint, the respondents provided consumers with a discount of $50 off the cost of AmeriFreight’s services if consumers agreed to review the company’s services online, and increased the cost by $50 if consumers did not agree to write a review. They also outlined “conditions for receiving a discount on reviews,” stating if consumers leave an online review, they will be automatically entered into a $100 per month “Best Monthly Review Award” for the most creative subject title and “informative content.”

Omission is also a lie, folks

They also contacted consumers after their cars had been shipped to remind them of their obligation to complete a review to receive the “online review discount,” and qualify for the $100 award. However, they failed to disclose the material connection between the company and their consumer endorsers; namely: AmeriFreight compensated consumers to post online reviews. Finally, and perhaps most offensively, AmeriFreight deceptively represented that its favorable reviews were based on the unbiased reviews of customers.

How the FTC is punishing AmeriFreight

In order to settle the FTC’s charges, AmeriFreight is prohibited fom misrepresenting their products or services are highly rated or top-ranked based on unbiased consumer reviews, or that customer reviews are unbiased. It also requires the respondents to clearly and prominently disclose any material connection, if one exists, between them and their endorsers.

AmeriFreight must also maintain records of their advertisements and other relevant documents, and must deliver copies of the order to company principals, officers, directors, managers, employees and others. Finally, they must notify the FTC about any changes in corporate structure or affiliation with new businesses that could affect their compliance with the order, which will expire in 20 years.

For more information:

The FTC has information for consumers about detecting and avoiding deceptive and misleading advertisement, as well as, how to submit comments about such transgressors electronically. Use this intervention as a word to the wise: if you offer an incentive in order to receive reviews from consumers, you absolutely must disclose this incentive fully and completely or risk facing penalties from the FTC.

#IllegalReviews

Jennifer Walpole is a Senior Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a Master's degree in English from the University of Oklahoma. She is a science fiction fanatic and enjoys writing way more than she should. She dreams of being a screenwriter and seeing her work on the big screen in Hollywood one day.

Business News

What COVID-19 measures do workplaces have to take to reopen?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Employers can’t usually do medical screenings – but it’s a little different during a pandemic.

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Employers bringing personnel back to work are faced with the challenge of protecting their workforce from COVID-19. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have issued guidelines on how to do so safely and legally.

Employee health and examinations are usually a matter of personal privacy by design through the American’s with Disabilities Act. However, after the World Health Organization declaration of the coronavirus as a pandemic in March, the U.S. EEOC revised its guidance to allow employers to screen for possible infections in order to protect employees.

Employers are now allowed to conduct temperature screenings and check for symptoms of the coronavirus. They can also exclude from the workplace those they suspect of having symptoms. The recommendations from the CDC also include mandatory masks, distant desks, and closing common areas. As the pandemic and US response evolves, it is important for employers to continue to monitor any changes in guidance from these agencies.

Employers are encouraged to have consistent thresholds for symptoms and temperature requirements and communicate those with transparency. Though guidance suggests that COVID-19 screenings at work are allowed by law, employers should be mindful of the way they are conducted and the impact it may have on employer-employee relations.

Stanford Health Care is taking a bold approach by performing COVID-19 testing on each of its 14,000 employees that have any patient contact. They implemented temperature scanning stations at each entrance, operated by nurses and clinicians. The President and CEO of Sanford Health Care said, “For our patients to trust the clinical procedures and trials, it was important for them to know that we were safe.”

Technology is adapting to meet the needs of employers and identify symptoms of COVID-19. Contactless thermometers that can check the temperature of up to 1,500 people per hour using thermal imaging technology are now on the market; they show an error margin of less than one-tenth of a degree Fahrenheit. COVID-19 screening is being integrated into some company time-clocks used by employees at the start and end of each shift. The clocks are being equipped with a way to record employee temperatures and answers to a health questionnaire. Apple and Google even collaborated to bring contact tracing to smart phones which could help contain potential outbreaks.

Fever, coughing, and difficulty breathing are the three most common symptoms of COVID-19. Transmission is still possible from a person who is asymptomatic, but taking the precautions to identify these symptoms can help minimize workplace spread. This guidance may change in the future as the pandemic evolves, but for now, temperature checks are a part of back to work for many.

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Business News

Technology that may help you put the “human” back in Human Resources

(BUSINESS NEWS) Complicated application processes and disorganized on-boarding practices often dissuade the best candidates and cause new hires to leave. Sora promises to help with this.

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Even in a booming economy, finding the right applicant for a role can be a drawn-out, frustrating experience for both the candidate and the hiring manager. Candidates submitting their resume to an automated HR system, designed to “seamlessly” integrate candidates into their HRIS accounts, face the interminable waiting game for feedback on whether they’re going to be contacted at all.

Ironically, this lack of feedback on where a candidate stands (or even if the resume was received at all) and a propensity for organizations to list roles as “Open Until Filled”, overwhelms the hiring manager under a mountain of resumes, most of which will not be reviewed unless there is a keyword match for the role. And if they do somehow manage to see the resume, studies indicate that in less than 10 seconds, they’ll have moved on to the next one.

The problems don’t end there, however. Once the candidate and hiring manager have found one another, and the HR team has completed the hire, the dreaded phase of onboarding begins. During the first few days of a new job, a lack of effective onboarding procedures—ranging from simple tasks like arranging for technology or introductions to a workplace mentor—can be the cause of a significant amount of employee turnover. Forbes notes that 17% of all newly hired employees leave their job during the first 90 days, and 20% of all staff turnover happens within the first 45 days.

The reason, according to Laura Del Beccaro, Founder of startup Sora, is that overworked HR teams simply don’t have the bandwidth to follow up with all of those who are supposed to interact with the new employee to ensure a seamless transition experience. Focusing on building a template-based system that can be integrated within the frameworks of multiple HRIS systems, Sora’s focus is to set up adaptable workflow processes that don’t require the end-user to code, and can be adjusted to meet the needs of one or many employee roles.

In a workplace that is becoming increasingly virtual, out of practicality or necessity, having the ability to put the “human” back in Human Resources is a focus that can’t be ignored. From the perspective of establishing and expanding your team, it’s important to ensure that potential employees have an application experience that respects their time and talent and feedback is provided along the way, even when they might not be a fit for the role.

Take for example the organization who asked for an upload of a resume, then required the candidate to re-type everything into their HRIS, asked for three survey responses, an open-ended writing task, a virtual face-to-face interview, *and* three letters of reference—all for an entry-level role. If you were actually selected for an in-person interview, the candidate was then presented with another task that could take up to two hours of prep time to do—again, all for an entry level role.

Is that wrong? Is it right? The importance of selecting the right staff for your team can’t be overstated. But there should be a line between taking necessary precautions to ensure the best fit for your role and understanding that many of the best candidates you might find simply don’t want to participate in such a grueling process and just decide to move on. There’s a caveat that says that companies will never treat an employee better than in the interview process and in the first few weeks on the job—and that’s where Sora’s work comes in, to make certain that an employee is fully supported from day one.

Bringing on the best to leave them without necessary support and equipment, wondering at the dysfunction that they find, and shuffled from department to department once they get there creates the reality and the perception that they just don’t matter—which causes that churn and disconnect. Having your employees know that they matter and that they’ll be respected from day one is a basic right—or it should be.

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Business News

Trader Joe’s doesn’t want to change its controversial brand names

(BUSINESS NEWS) Branding has gone through a major change recently and many companies are agreeing to shifts, but Trader Joe’s thinks its names are fine.

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In the last few months our country has gone through a complete re-evaluation of their societal impact with their branding names. Companies that have been strong for neigh on a century are changing their names to accommodate more socio-intelligent content. Whether its from real change or from following the societal trends, the gambit of following the socio-economic climate is becoming a common theme. However the world turns next, the changes we are seeing now is creating a new world of products and status quo.

One company, though, is standing strong with their branding. Trader Joe’s, a grocery store chain, is sticking to its guns, despite some rather vocal push back. A petition aimed at the stores “racist” branding name habit has started making its way through the internet. Currently the petition has crossed the 5000-signature threshold and is getting close to its 7500 goal on change.org.

The habit of using phrases like “Trader Jose” or “Trader Ming’s” in their international food products is the main point of contention. The people behind the petition state that using names like this makes those items appear to be exotic or out of the norm like the original/traditional brand Joe – which at its very basic definition is truthful. The branding technique brands something as different than the original.

Initially a company spokesperson stated that the names were in the process of being changed, but less than a week later their tone changed. Trader Joe’s now states that while they “want to be clear; we disagree that any of these labels are racist.” They will not be changing things based on petitions. Also they report that “decades ago, our Buying Team started using product names, like Trader Giotto’s, Trader Jose’s, Trader Ming’s, etc.

We thought then – and still do – that this naming of products could be fun and show appreciation for other cultures”. According to their current reporting they have also reached out to their customer base and supposedly many customers reaffirmed “that these name variations are largely viewed in exactly the way they were intended – as an attempt to have fun with our product marketing”.

Personally, I see two major issues here. First, they are literally talking about a branding that is decades old; habits that were comedic then are now seen in a very different light. Just like an organism, society grows and changes too. If they can’t come up with new gimmicks to make themselves more popular and fresher, then they’ll most likely fall by the wayside as it is. The other issue is that their polling was specifically geared towards their current buyers; they asked their own customers whether they found this offensive. Can we all just take a collective deep breath and say biased please? Whether or not they decide to stick to their guns here is going to lay some groundwork in the future.

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