Yelp: The Backlash Begins…

Picture 25There's a pretty serious article about Yelp, which has become the dominant player in restaurant and 
service reviews in the SF Bay Area, in a local alternative weekly The East Bay Express called Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0.

Now recently Yelp has seen a couple of its reviewers sued for reviews about health care providers (both chiropractors), and the issue about what reviewers can say online is probably still to be worked out.

But this article is about something much worse. It accuses Yelp of changing reviews, eliminating them, and generally breaching the church/state line between community and sponsorship.

And it goes both ways. Businesses that advertise get bad reviews “disappeared” and those who don’t find their good reviews are vanishing.

Reading between the lines, it’s probably true that pushy commissioned sales people have been suggesting that good things will happen to those businesses that sponsor/advertise, and that the reverse is true to those who don’t. The question is, have they actually been given the keys to the car to make that happen? If so, it’ll probably kill Yelp’s business. But if it doesn’t then lawsuits and regulation are likely to follow.

This already matters for health care reviews. Yelp has far more doctor reviews (in terms of number of reviews per physician) than any other review site I’m aware of in the SF Bay Area. But of course, the same issue is potentially true for any review site that focuses on doctors and is searching for a business model.

The only issue as of now is that, as Michael Millenson pointed out this week on THCB, the healthcare review sites out there now can only hope for a fraction of Yelp’s reach and power.

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4 replies »

  1. I will say this. As a small business in Seattle here was my experience.
    1. I get a call from Yelp to advertise. I decline and my 12 5 star reviews, suddenly goes to 8 5 star reviews. Since I had no bad reviews I just sort of shrugged that off.
    2. I get a bad, false review. I contact Yelp and they tell me the review is legit and she has a right to say how she “feels” even though in her review she recommends my competitor and flat out makes false statements of events that didn’t happen. With 14 other witnesses in the room, it’s easy to call her on it. But with all this. Yelp lets her review not only stand, it remains at the top of my page, #1 review. Below that 8 good reviews, then more good reviews come in…yet the bad review remains at the top, outdated.
    3. Yelp gets more aggresssive with sales calling me. They say “if you pay $300 a month, that review can be lowered and may even go away. I decline, feel like a hostage to Yelp. With every decline a good review drops, there was this pattern I was seeing.
    4. I get an attorney to help me draft a letter to Yelp regarding unfair business practices, deceiving the public and just like that, the bad review is gone.
    5. If Yelp wants paid advertisers they need to find a fair and ethical way to post the reviews at the very least post them by date but they won’t do that. Investors must be and should be shaking in thier boots by now and I hope they have sleepness nights over this like I did when this false review became the billboard on the Yelp site. Oh, I even got 5 star review from an Elite and he was a the bottom of the reviews until they got my letter. Then the false review gone, my elite is at the top, even though THAT review, which I love is out dated.

  2. Interesting comment Danny …
    1. Yeah. She ends the article “quickly” about three hundred words short of 5,000 words. You’re clearly on to something.
    2. The sources refused to identify themselves publicly because they feared Yelp would use the same tactics to bury their reviews. In the news business that’s a legitimate reason to not include a source’s name in a story – not the same thing as a malicious “anonymous source.” If somebody – say the California Attorney General’s office – were investigating this story, the reporter can provide contacts.
    3. She doesn’t finish an admission that “all might not be as it seems.” She finishes the article by saying that there are few signs that anything is changing at Yelp.
    As pieces like this go, the story takes a pretty strong stand. The author doesn’t chicken out at the end – like many do – and write “all of this of is very weird and disturbing but oh gosh, I’m just a silly little reporter – these people could be just making it all up – so the reader should decide for themselves …”
    Could she have included a quote from the obligatory Yelp enthusiast to balance the story? Sure. Finding a Yelper in San Francisco wouldn’t exactly be hard. And that’s what a lot of journalism school profs would tell her to do. But I’m not sure it would accomplish anything. Everybody knows people who love Yelp. For that matter, I love Yelp. But that isn’t what the story is about.
    It’s certainly possible that there is more to the story and that Yelp is being unfairly maligned by an annoyed journalist who harbors some secret grudge against them for pointing her to a bad Thai restaurant with peanut sauce that made her throw up or whatever … Happens all the time. My guess is we’ll find out soon enough.
    I’m far more interested in knowing if there are any Bay area doctors who have similar stories to report, given how much interest there is at the moment in that side of Yelp’s business …

  3. I think you should really read the article. The article ends quickly with an admission that perhaps all might not be as it seems. She admits that perhaps her sources are biased. Furthermore, the sources refused to identify themselves. Furthermore, she has no vendor who believes in the service – such as myself and many of my associates who have good and bad reviews but recognize the power to learn from them all. Lastly, I have never been approached, never had bad reviews removed (even when I pointed one of them out as being blatantly false.) The matrix, to which she refers, is actually very simple to follow. I have never had a problem figuring it out. So before quickly spreading an alarmist article as fact, I would read it more carefully.

  4. Dr. Robert Carl Parisien says: I agree completely. Yelp’s reach is dramatic. Its the place to go for health information.

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