Yelp has sued Revleap, a Los Angeles based company. Yelp claims it is misleading, in fact scamming, customers by asking them to pay to “guarantee” good reviews on Yelp. They mention that they are “taking a stand to protect business owners” so they don’t fall prey to misleading companies. More specifically, they mention that business owners need to know which companies are “playing by the rules” and which ones are not.
Yelp is absolutely correct that small business owners should be wary of companies that promise to enhance your online reviews or guarantee you 5-stars on leading sites. Small business owners are not fully aware of all the things they can and should be doing to enhance their online profile. But this lawsuit is as a pathetic PR play on Yelp’s part in an effort to appear “business friendly” and to build trust with a demographic where it is in woefully short supply.
Who appointed Yelp the law maker for how small businesses should interact with their customers? If a business owner wants to ask their customers for reviews, why can’t they “opt out” of being on Yelp? It seems wholly reasonable that a business would want to be able to ask for online reviews/feedback, and even provide an incentive to do so. There is a well known postulate that only 1% of people online create content, and the rest of us consume it. So, it stands to reason that the only way to get more than 1 out of 100 customers giving my business feedback would be to provide an incentive.
Add on top of this that studies have shown that up to 20% of Yelp reviews are fake. And finally, that a large percentage of Yelp reviews come from the Yelp Elite team, which doesn’t leave a lot of reviews left from your average customer.
So, if I’m a small business owner, the odds are very high that most of my regular customers are not going to review me on Yelp. Also, when that business does get a review, if it’s negative, it looks pretty bad overall and it makes me want to ask my happy customers for some good reviews. In other words, Yelp’s native behavior incents businesses to game the system.
The bottom line (and irony) is that Yelp is not a trusted authority for small business owners. They use fear and manipulation to incent businesses to advertise with them, but I’m ok with that because it’s their own site and they have a right to choose whatever strategy they like to grow their business. Just don’t try to play the game of being the small business owners advocate and “protect” them from companies like Revleap. Yelp manipulates business owners just as much. In fact, the “rules” Yelp is trying so hard to protect are their own arbitrary rules – the ones that most small business owners aren’t happy with in the first place and that make them seek our companies like Revleap.