For years, my advice to clients regarding YELP was to never be available when they call. The reasoning was that, as long as you hadn’t officially heard the pitch and said ‘no’, they had no reason to punish you and mess with your reviews. Although YELP fervently and frequently denies that they bury your good reviews and float the bad ones to the top if you decline to advertise or stop advertising with them, there are too many people who consider themselves victims of this to assume it’s just an Internet myth. In fact, you can see what I’m referring to in a couple of different news exposés here, here and here. No matter what YELP claims to the contrary, it goes against all common sense to say there isn’t a fire when you hear so many businesses say they got burned.
The good news is, the days of YELP claiming they are not manipulating the reviews appear to be finally over. Unfortunately, the bad news is that it’s not because they have stopped doing it–it’s simply because three Judges in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco (which, coincidentally, is where YELP is headquartered and is a major political player), says there is nothing illegal about it!
The court upheld a federal judge’s dismissal of a proposed class-action damage suit by small-business owners claiming Yelp’s sales representatives told them their review ratings would depend on their decision to buy ads. According to Judge Marsha Berzon, “… Yelp has the right to charge for legitimate advertising services, the (alleged) threat of economic harm … is, at most, hard bargaining, and not extortion or unfair business practices.” So now that we all know that ‘the threat of economic harm is not extortion’, my hope is the court will be nice enough next month to enlighten us as to what the ‘new’ definition for extortion is (… and, did I mention that Yelp is major player in San Francisco?).
Unfortunately, the court’s redefining of ‘extortion’ has not gone unnoticed by all the other ‘helpful’ review services. Services just like YELP that want you to direct your customers to their review sites to leave reviews for you–while they show them ads (bought by your competition) as they do it. To put it bluntly, with the new ruling, they don’t even have to be polite now when they try to shake you down. Case in point, here’s the text of an email received by my friend Bill Campbell at Campbell Comfort Systems in West Deptford, NJ. Bill was sent the email by a sales rep at Angie’s List within days after the court’s decision was published:
I don’t know about you but, after reading the above email, I almost expect to see Angie dressed in black leather and chains, and brandishing a riding crop in her next TV commercial. For the sake of the children watching, hopefully, it’s only the gloves that have come off!
So, don’t be surprised if the calls you get tend to be even more pushy and threatening. My advice regarding the big online review companies remains the same–your best bet is to not be available to take the call when their sales people try to contact you.
Or… as my favorite quote from the 1983 movie ‘War Games’ goes (the computer’s realization after trying to win a nuclear war simulation), “The only winning move is not to play!“
Even though buying what the big review companies are selling may work for you short term–it can become an expensive ‘addiction’–one that’s hard to quit without going through a lot of pain later. All the best.