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February 23, 2009
In Yelp we trust?
Yelp has successfully set many standards for democratized participation. It has cultivated a strong, tribe-like culture among passionate, hobbyist reviewers. If a local Yelp tribe falls in love with a local business, that can translate into significant dollars. Yelp is a word-of-mouth ecosystem, and it's powerful.
That's why this article is concerning: "Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0" quotes Bay Area business owners who said Yelp sales people offered to manipulate the ranking of user reviews based on their willingness to buy an ad. Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman refutes claims in the article here and here.
Trust in user-created reviews is delicate. By extension, so is trust in the platform that hosts them, which must demonstrate uncompromising standards for transparency, honesty and over-the-top concern for fairness. Trust is a bank account that can be quickly depleted. It's almost impossible to refill.
Update: The New York Times weighs in on Yelp, with a balanced piece, but the coda is direct and uncompromising:
Yelp’s lack of transparency does not affect its relationship with businesses alone. It also risks eroding users’ trust in the site. Eric Kingery, an engineer and frequent Yelp user in Chicago, discovered that a review he had written of a jeweler disappeared. “It just makes me suspicious of the impartiality,” he said. “It is a very useful service, but this kind of harms the integrity of the site.”
Update 2: More allegations of suspicion, this time from the Chicago Tribune. Yelp: It looks as if you're caught in a storm of bad word of mouth.
Other blogs that reference In Yelp we trust?:
Sooner than later, a general consumer review won't be enough - individuals will want to hear from people they know (enter Facebook Connect, et al). Social media monetization has pushed spam manufacturing into a grey area and it smells pretty rotten to me.
Is it wiser to believe the CEO who has a revenue/profit motive, or to believe the business owners who have nothing to gain by saying this is happening to them?
Let's face it. The company was over-the-top brazen to think this would go unnoticed.
Remember Google's original rule #1.
Don't Be Evil.
Hah! The excellent Irish boards.ie has unmasked a slightly different (same effect though) piece of duplicity in Ireland: http://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=2055397739
How sad this is to hear, I'm a true yelper and review every place I eat and many places I shop because I love yelp. I know there is a chance some of the reviews were faked but I wouldn't have thought this.
We've watched Yelp for some time now, as timinganddelivery.com is similar, but different in focus - quality over quantity. I agree with your point on transparency, though...if you don't have that, it's hard to stave off manipulation and gaming.
I've seen this a lot in the news lately! A lot of people are annoyed at Yelp. I'm wondering if this "conspiracy" of altering reviews has ever happened with any of the other review-based sites like Judy's Book or InsiderPages. Does anyone know?
Until recently I worked at a veterinary hospital in San Francisco, with 187 reviews on Yelp.
It's understandable that in a busy emergency veterinary practice there will always be some customers who aren't happy with their experience. However, over the past couple years there have been a few negative reviews that were just completely dishonest, falsely accusing us of harming animals and other nefarious things. One was posted by a customer who was trying to get out of paying a delinquent bill, another by one who had been politely asked to leave after verbally abusing a receptionist. When we tried to contact Yelp to see about removing the false reviews, we found out that 1) Yelp has no phone number, 2) there's no way to talk to a live person, and 3) email inquiries resulted in a return message saying they refuse to even discuss the situation, saying "we don't get involved unless there's a court order."
Then we started getting calls from the Yelp sales representatives, telling us that if we pay $299 a month or more we can get negative reviews moved or deleted, and "disappeared" positive reviews reinstated. One rep even suggested that additional negative reviews might appear unless we "improved our image" by subscribing to their business owners plan. They also said that paying business customers can call and discuss the merits of negative reviews with a Yelp staff person.
Small businesses really have no way to defend their professional reputations against dishonest attacks on Yelp, and Yelp seems to encourage dishonesty by its corporate policies and business practices. I am glad this is getting some press!
By the way, if someone at Yelp happens to read this, please don't punish Pets Unlimited as I no longer work there and do not represent the opinions of my former employer.
i am somewhat relieved to read that others have shared a similar experience with yelp. my flowershop received two negative reviews from the same customer who used 2 different names. we were aware of her displeasure with our flowers prior to her posting on yelp, had contacted her, and the person who sent them to her and tried to do the right thing despite our belief that her complaints were a matter of taste not quality or neglect on our part.
we began getting solicitations from yelp every wednesday morning at 9 for at least a month. they wanted to discuss our "good business experience" on yelp, which was totally not the case.
i was not able to spend "20 minutes" in front of my computer with their sales rep and after 6 weeks the calls stopped.
after another negative review was posted, i tried to contact the unhappy woman to apologize but have been thwarted every which way despite creating a business profile on yelp...which requires an approved photo...rejected twice over a period of a week, bio, history, etc.
some of my customers came upon the yelp reviews posted by those one time unhappy customers and wrote their own lengthy positive reviews based on their experiences with our shop over 30-35 years.needless to say, those reviews were posted, then removed within a day to be replaced by the unhappy post at the very top of our page.
our website also has no link to the site, despite the fact that all other nearby flowershops listed on the site have a connecting link to theirs.
i have looked for a phone # or email address to contact yelp...no success. the one email i sent was never replied to...
my review of yelp: NO STARS....and their manipulation of a seemingly "democratic" site is damaging to small business.
I have been working with a client to establish his social media presence and online reputation. In monitoring Yelp's website we have noticed positive reviews posted that disappear within a couple of days leaving only negative ones remaining (which are believed to be fradulent but that's a different story)
He has not been approached by Yelp, however, is considering advertising based on this history because whether or not Yelp is soliciting directly these practices are still out there and are tarnishing the names of reputable companies
I also have a client who is being assassinated on Yelp, no matter how many good reviews are posted. Once a good review goes up, it goes down within 48 hours. As I have been their customer for over thirty years, I put up a good review of my own only to discover that once mine went up, another good review went down. Other clients have experienced the same thing. The three nasty reviews they have remain the same and are often the only ones left standing at the end of any given day.
Their practices are shady to say the least. And the worst part? No way to contact them as either a business owner or a user. It's truly frightening and, needless to say, I no longer believe they are fair or impartial. They're just creepy.
I am happy to hear that we are not the only company that has had many of these experiences on Yelp. I have never felt soooo powerless and frustrated about how Yelp works. My company has had such a great reputation and while we can always do something to improve our processes I am shocked that Yelp has taken down our great reviews and put up bad reviews. We have a very people intensive business in the area of employment and people are frustrated at this time more than I have ever experienced. Also, we believe that there is some sabotage going on from someone who is systematically putting up bad reviews. Never in my years of experience have had an experience like this Yelp company. They should be out of business or at least change some of their procedures. If I could sue them I would. Good Luck Everyone!
We are in a similar situation. All positive reviews were removed with 24 to 48 hours, for no reasons at all!! No way to contact Yelp either. Extremely frustrated. We are a startup business, and every piece of positive review counts! So glad to know that Yelp is facing a series of lawsuits which it deserves.
It's rather interesting that I did leave a rather negative feedback way back on one that I can see ~ only if I log in. However, as a visitor my feedback is not there. This tells me that indeed Yelp may not be participating within a democratic system but more like Bush-era type in favor of corruption and profiteering. Pretty clever in fooling us by playing around their web content management system, eh? Oh well, like in here ~ word is indeed getting around about how Yelp's truly is. Too bad.
Found this number for Yelp, apparently you can leave them a message! 1-415-908-3801
SMB New Media Marketing
I had a customer who owed me money write a horrible review to get out of paying. I even told yelp about situation and they still refused to take it down. The two good reviews I did have just randomly disapeared. It as if they only want you to have bad reviews. It sucks for a small business like mine that doesnt get reviews often or everyday like a restaurant. I even tried to post a response to her review and they wouldn't allow that either. They should at least be fair about it.
I need HELP WITH YELP! so if anyone has ideas for me.... i did a search and nnoticed yelp had a listing on my business and there were inaccuracies. So i was able to go in and change these, but it was "subject to review" ~ now if you do a search on my business, yelp shows up #1 and it reports my business is CLOSED.
How can they get away with this? From reading your posts here, I suspect that I'm supposed to become a member and pay money to get this CLOSED removed. It comes up at the top of the search page ~ someone did some work to achieve that....
I reviewed a new restaurant in my neighborhood that recently opened. They are very small but VERY good. I went into some detail to describe what I had and why I liked it. It is a struggling mexican "hole in the wall" place but with outstanding food. Well, my 5 star review was "filtered" I'm guessing they didn't pay the extortion fee to Yelp so they are getting shafted by a greedy company who manipulates businesses reviews to harm those that don't pay and falsify information to the good for those that do pay.
Try the Internet Crime Complaint Center if you have had libelous reviews.
Try calling Yelp at (415) 908-3801 press 6 for "sales" then 4 for "advertising" or 5 for "marketing". Leave a message and/or phone number. Yelp personnel will call back. Obviously, this is not the complaint number or the legal dept. but Yelp does not make those phone numbers easily available. I believe that letting Yelp employees know how you feel is important. Eventually, it may get through to upper management that extortion tactics are frowned on by users.