ClickZ is running an article today about Yelp’s current legal troubles. I’m quoted in the article (at the end) and I come across as a staunch defender of Yelp.
While I do admire the loyalty they’ve built up amongst users, I’m actually more in the middle than the article portrays. I really believe Yelp needs to improve its overall messaging to small business owners if it wants to gain wider adoption and acceptance as a marketing channel. And, as I posited in my earlier post on Yelp this week, I definitely wonder if “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” applies to Yelp. It very well could.
But aside from how I feel about Yelp, the bigger issue is the impact of these legal troubles and claims on Yelp’s trust. The ClickZ piece gets into that a bit, but I think this post by Mike Blumenthal today says a lot more about it. Mike interviews a small business owner about reviews, and here’s what the business owner says about Yelp:
We avoid them like the black plague. You can find a lot of articles on the subject so I won’t get on a soap box…but we’ve had around 30 satisfied customers post positive reviews on Yelp and none of them posted to our profile. When we asked why we were told that the customer has to be an “active Yelp user” or the reviews will not show up. When we asked what constitutes an “active Yelp user” we were told that formula was proprietary and confidential. Of course, this didn’t stop them from making a sales call and offering us assistance in getting more positive reviews on our account. After doing some research and realizing this was a much bigger problem with other business owners, and that they were involved in a class action lawsuit for similar accusations, we just decided to avoid them all together.
I’m guessing that attitude is more widespread than we think. And it speaks to one of Yelp’s fundamental flaws: The mysterious algorithm has a natural bias against first-time reviewers. It’s the old job search catch-22 — you need experience to get a job, but you can’t get experience if no one will hire you.
How can Yelp reach its full potential if it regularly punishes new users by not posting their reviews? There’s a trust problem here with small business owners who see real reviews from real people being zapped from the site, and from people who’d like to become regular users, but have a bad experience when their first taste of Yelp is essentially, “We don’t care what you have to say.”