The SF Chronicle has an interesting article on how business owners were trading positive reviews (networking, quid pro quos) and were removed from the site for the practice:
Last week, Yelp purged an undisclosed number of accounts after finding that the business owners had swapped positive reviews with other business owners. Yelp also regularly deletes reviews it believes are phony. The move sparked an outcry among local businesses, and has even led some entrepreneurs to band together with thoughts of a class-action lawsuit. Their reasoning is, if they legitimately spend their money and patronize a service, why can’t they review it?
This is a very gray area (and a thorny issue for Yelp); the reviews many be entirely legitimate in many cases. But, as the article points out, it underscores the influence and impact of Yelp. It’s very much like Google and people trying to game or improve their ranking on Google because of how that maps directly to the bottom line.
There’s probably an opportunity for Yelp here to “make lemonade” from these lemons if they can deftly negotiate the controversy.