Inc. Magazine has written what’s probably the deepest article/profile of Yelp that I’ve ever read. It touches all the points you’ve probably read before — how small business owners struggle with its power, how they struggle to deal with poor reviews, how Yelp users sometimes use the site as a tool for vengeance, how Yelp is trying to bridge the gap between reviewers and business owners, and so forth.
But there’s also a lot of detail about the costs of Yelp’s business/advertising services, not to mention the bizarre story that leads the article about a small business owner who got in a physical confrontation with one reviewer and ended up falling down the steps outside his apartment. That’s an extreme example of the power struggle that exists on Yelp between reviewers and small business owners. The article sums up the debate well in this bit:
American society has, for more than a century, been defined by corporate power, and the Internet has upset that balance, mostly for the good. When someone sends a Twitter message about his baggage being lost by a large, publicly traded airline — “Delta sucks!” — it’s hard to argue that this is a bad thing. Delta does suck in that instance. And Delta can take it.
But Yelp encourages people to be unsparing in their critiques of companies that can’t take it — companies that are small, independent, and not particularly profitable. The site capitalizes on our impulses to take down the Man, but, in doing so, turns us against mom-and-pop businesses — already hit by globalization, consolidation, and a recession. At its best, Yelp is meritocratic, helping good businesses like Lauren Hart’s to thrive. At its worst, Yelp empowers people who do not need to be empowered at the expense of those who are already struggling.
There’s also a complementary article with some advice for SMBs about how to deal with criticism online.