The Flaw of Yelp.com

As a viral marketing director I interact with many social media platforms, one of which is Yelp.  I have been an advocate of Yelp for years as a consumer, a marketer, and a representative of large businesses.  Now, it is hurtful to one of my businesses and the flaws are revealed to me.  Yelp is basically a consumer generated Zagat; a place where consumers can rate businesses such as restaurants, retail stores, businesses, etc.  The problem is that most people are only inspired to write a review if they have had either a terrible or phenomenal experience.  In major cities this all balances out because of online bloggers (like myself) who think the world really wants to know what we have to say…and cares.  The good reviews and negative reviews balance each other out and with the help of the 2-4 star reviews and you actually get a good idea of what people think about a place.  This is not so outside of the major cities.

In smaller markets like Wichita some places may only get 1 review and whatever that person said is what now appears in search engines.  We are taught to say things like “never underestimate the power of social media” to our clients and vendors when developing a social media strategy, but what if the 1 review was a kid who had a bad day and then his girlfriend dumped him at the donut shop.  He’s upset, gives the donut place a 1 star review because his coffee got cold, and no one else reviews it…and now the donut shop has negative social media working against it.  This is a common story for many businesses outside of L.A., San Francisco, Chicago, NYC, etc.  The system is lacking a fail safe.  Right?  Yelp claims no:

“Yelp has an automated Review Filter that many people are surprised to learn was put in place soon after our big launch in 2005. Of course, it’s evolved over the years; it’s an algorithm our engineers are constantly working on. Its purpose, however, remains the same: to protect consumers and business owners from fake, shill or malicious reviews.  We try to showcase the most helpful and reliable reviews among the millions that are submitted to the site. Not all reviews make the cut, and those that don’t are posted to a separate “Filtered Review” page. Filtered reviews don’t factor into a business’s overall star rating, but users can still read them by clicking on the link at the bottom of the business’s profile page.”

That is what is written on the Yelp page for business owners.  The restaurant has 4 filtered reviews and a current average star rating is 2.5 which is not good.  It is why we remodeled the business, updated the kitchen, launched a new menu, and set new service standards.  It has been a complete 180 turnabout.  The inspiration to do this came from Yelp and other sites where we learned what things we needed to work on.  There are people out there who would write positive reviews about the restaurant but they simply haven’t…or have they?  3 of the 4 filtered reviews on Yelp were 5 star ratings from real customers.  Apparently my getting a 5 star rating is “fake, shill, or malicious.”  Granted, the negative reviews we received warranted attention and we own those mistakes…but to know that Yelp has removed EVERY 5 star review for the restaurant is atrocious!  I am livid.

So, what can you do about it as a business owner?  ” …business owners should probably focus less on any one review and more on their entire body of reviews.”  That means; nothing.  We have 10 non-filtered reviews and 4 filtered…and We’re supposed to focus on the “body of reviews?”  30% of the reviews are filtered!  Yelp is hurtful to businesses in smaller markets and reviewers should beware.  Understand that a 1 star review means that your experience was so bad in comparison to all things that it makes you upset or nauseous to think about it.  5 stars means it is so good you want everyone to have the same experience.

Don’t forget 2-4…that is where most of life takes place…somewhere between “I can live with this” and “that wasn’t bad.”

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