Yelp calls out a new batch of businesses caught trying to manipulate the system

Yelp calls out a new batch of businesses caught trying to manipulate the system

A single negative review on Yelp can cost a small business thousands of dollars in unearned revenue.  If the review is exceptionally detailed and emotional, it can cause irreparable damage to a company’s reputation even to the point of driving the company out of business.

Because there’s so much at stake, business owners have started to fight back, suing reviewers for spreading lies and some of those owners are winning.

But sometimes the reviews are true, leaving a flustered owner with only two options. They can negate the bad review with a flood of fake, positive reviews. Or they can “persuade” the unhappy customer to change his public tune.

Try either one of these options and you could see this graphic pop-up on your Yelp listing:

Consumer AlertThe Yelp Consumer Alert Program was launched back in 2012 but they recently up-dated the alert to include a whole list of new offenses. The original 2012 graphic only accused business owners of trying to buy positive reviews. Dishonest, but understandable given the pressure to build up a good Yelp rep.

The new alert includes companies who offered to pay a customer if they would change their review from bad to good. A few days ago, Yelp lowered the boom on 37 companies including a mover and (careful now) a lawyer.

They also called out a swim school for “offering incentives” to parents who posted positive reviews. Again, that doesn’t seem as bad as offering to pay someone to change a review. Yelp itself has  been accused of review extortion; buy an ad or your positive reviews will mysteriously disappear! For the record, the case was dismissed.

Yelp didn’t like being called a liar in public, yet they’re willing to publicly brand a company with an official “warning message” for all to see. How much evidence does Yelp need before bringing down the hammer? How many chances does a company get before they’re issued a scarlet letter?

Once issued, the consumer alert remains in place for 90 days. If there’s no sign of trouble during that time, the alert is removed. Fair enough, but how much business will a company lose in a 90 day period? I’m surprised Yelp hasn’t been sued for defamation over one of these pop-ups.

The best thing you can do to stay out of Yelp’s way is to stay as far away from the entire review process as possible. You can gently ask your customers to leave a review (though Yelp says to not even ask) but offering even a small thank you, such as a coupon or a contest entry, can be interpreted as a bribe.

If you do get a bad review, learn from it and, if possible, make it right. Just don’t bribe the reviewer to change his initial statements.

If you believe negative reviews are fakes or if you’re being bullied, document the reviews with screenshots then ask Yelp to investigate.

Avoid the temptation to fire back on Yelp or spout off on one of the many “we hate Yelp” forums.

Remember, Yelp reviews are just as likely to help you gain new customers as lose them as long as you’re treating your current customers right.

What do you think of the Yelp Consumer Alert Program? Fair or one-step away from a lengthy legal battle?