We spend a lot of time and energy helping small businesses manage the various risks they face so they can keep serving their clients, increasing their revenue, and helping the economy grow. Because of that, we find it especially aggravating when we hear about organizations that are making life more difficult for small businesses.
This week, we read an appalling story about the online review site Yelp filtering positive reviews for small businesses – allegedly because they refused to advertise on Yelp.com. Naturally, this did not sit well with us. But it turns out, Yelp’s review filtering practices have been in place for a while – and they’ve garnered more than a little anger from the small-business community.
Removal of Five-Star Reviews…For Not Advertising with Yelp?
Marc Lysne, former owner of CompuTechs+, a Minneapolis-based business that performed Apple repair and data recovery work, noted that he experienced Yelp’s review filtering firsthand. “A representative would call us about once a week and ask us to advertise on their site,” Lysne told us. When he refused, Yelp took down one of the company’s five-star reviews.
“The calls came almost on a weekly basis,” Lysne said. All told, Yelp removed more than 30 five-star reviews from the entry for CompuTechs+. The single-star reviews, though (those that rated the company poorly), were left up.
How to Protect Your Business
So what’s a small-business owner to do when online review sites don’t accurately depict what people are saying about your company? This isn’t an easy situation to navigate, but you may be able to minimize the damage such practices cause your business by taking some of the following steps.
- Educating your customers. If you maintain a Facebook page, blog, or Twitter account, you’ve already determined that your customers can be reached online – which means they might also be checking out Yelp reviews. Educate them about the company’s review filtering by linking to stories that describe the practice on your social media sites and, if necessary, telling your own story. Encourage your fans to spread the word, and you’ll amplify your message.
- Giving positive reviewers an alternate platform. Another benefit of maintaining an online presence is that it offers you a non-Yelp option for acquiring and publishing customer reviews. Encourage customers to visit your website and incentivize reviews with discounts or free giveaways. Even negative reviews are useful, as they let you see what your clientele really think and help you address weaknesses in your operating model.
- Contacting a lawyer. Yelp was targeted by several class-action lawsuits in 2010 that alleged its review filtration system amounted to extortion. The suits were dismissed in 2011, but as recently as December of last year, business owners have filed similar or related cases against the online review site. While your business’s individual losses from negative Yelp reviews might not merit initiating legal action, an attorney may be able to offer insight about what your options are.
Have you had any problems (or positive experiences) with online reviews of your business? We’d love to hear about them – please share in the comments!