Thursday, December 19, 2013

To Yelp or Not to Yelp

Online ratings can make a big difference in a small business' bottom line.  But are they still trustworthy?

When ratings sites first opened, they were a boon to small businesses looking to improve their street cred.  Even a negative review was an opportunity to demonstrate great customer service in less than ideal circumstances and still come out a winner.

Business review sites like Yelp, Angie's List, Kudzu, etc are the original "crowdsourcing" sites.  Recently Yelp has come under fire for allegedly hiding positive reviews under a "not recommended" label if the business in question did not purchase advertising with Yelp.

From Channel 46 today:
Woo said their impressive Yelp review became less impressive after they decided not to pay $299 a month to advertise with Yelp.
"They're kind of extorting us to pay the $299 a month or otherwise our ratings go down and we can't do anything about it," Woo said.
Woo also pointed out that at the bottom of Yoon Sushi's profile there's a link to 15 other reviews that are not currently recommended, the majority of which are perfect 5 star reviews.
"One of our customers came in and told us that he put a 5 star review and then noticed the review went straight to the filter and was under the un-recommended section," Woo said.
From Huffington Post

Complicating the issue further is the growing role of "reputation managers":  firms that regularly review the Internet for content about their client.  Then, if they find anything, they issue press releases and reviews and blog articles and a flood of links to "bury" the incriminating material so far down in search engine results that they are unlikely to be read.

Some of these "managers" have no trouble taking the next step and writing glowing positive reviews on Yelp, etc for their clients and negative ones for their clients' competitors.

A publication from my alma mater ran their own analysis of Yelp and other crowsourced review sites.

How can consumers view these sites more critically?
I think there are many signals on Yelp that consumers can combine to make up their minds. The way I use Yelp is, I read individual reviews, trying to be aware not just of whether they’re fake, but beyond that, whether they come from consumers who are like myself. There are plenty of biases in reviews besides their being fake or real. The other thing I look at is the number of reviews a business has. I have a lot more faith in a business with 3½ stars and 100 reviews than I do in one with 4 stars and just 3 or 4 reviews. That’s common sense. Also, when available, you can use sites, like Expedia, that allow consumers to review a business only once it’s confirmed that they are paying customers.
Comments are open:  do you use Yelp or similar sites for your business?  Have you experienced having certain reviews hidden?  Has crowdsourced reviews helped or hurt your enterprise?

Not small questions at the end of our Christmas shopping season when shoppers either shop online or check out store information on the internet.

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