Yelp is now in the national spotlight. Most of the publicity the site has received to date has been positive. However, a local CBS affiliate did a critical piece on the site and its policies toward advertisers. (Urban Mapping called it to my attention.)
The controversy at the heart of the report concerns representations or promises allegedly being made to potential advertisers regarding treatment of negative reviews (that they would be de-emphasized or pushed down). Yelp denied that they agree to do anything like this. Citysearch has been accused of similar things in the past.
The link above shows the full segment on the news, together with interviews of the business owners who contend that they were wronged.
There’s also the parallel issue of removing positive reviews that were allegedly written by business owners or their friends. (This is a gray area: what if my relative or friend is really also a customer?) Yelp previously shut down trading of positive reviews among business owners.
All this reflects that the stakes are very high for local businesses and they’re trying to do something to influence how they’re perceived and represented online. There are also numerous challenges that Yelp now faces in holding such a powerful position in certain markets.
One of the interesting things that restaurant reviews aggregator BooRah is doing is enabling communication between restaurants and customers through its loyalty program, which I previously blogged about. As part of that program, businesses may collect comments from customers (favorable or critical) and may selectively publish them. BooRah then syndicates those comments to its partners. In this way local restaurants can publish positive reviews and choose not to publish negative remarks.
While there are several “reputation monitoring” programs in the works, this is the first such program that actually generates positive reviews or gives businesses this level of control. To be clear, these are comments that diners are making to business owners not reviews being written publicly on the BooRah site (as I understand the program). The business then has control over whether to make the comments public. It’s thus different than “de-publishing” a negative review.
Previous online research conducted by Opus Research (owner of Local Mobile Search) and AllBusiness.com last year we found that most SMB respondents had a favorable view toward online reviews. But this is a complex area that is still evolving.
The Kudzu program I blogged about this morning is another effort to give businesses more control or influence with consumers.