Small and local business owners have a new favorite adversary. This time, the threat is not a franchised competitor or a new regulatory commission. This new, lurking menace is far more democratic… or at least, it purports to be.
The latest thorn in the backside of many independent businesses is none other than Yelp, the popular social site designed to help consumers find quality goods and services in their area based on local reviews. In theory, it’s a killer idea, a shining example of the free market working for the people.
Unfortunately, as Yelp becomes increasingly mainstream, more and more users are coming forward with complaints, claiming that Yelp officials are using subtle coercion to get them to buy advertising promotions.
“We can make those negative reviews go away… for a couple hundred bucks a month.”
This is the kind of offer many business owners have reported getting from Yelp advertising reps. Although it chips away at the site’s integrity, it’s not altogether surprising. Neither is it altogether unfair. But if you’ll huddle in closer to the entrepreneurial camp fire, you’ll learn that it’s only the beginning to this tale of horror.
Business owners who refused these offers reported a sudden influx of negative reviews, as well as having their own reviews buried. And after a recent deal with Yahoo, Yelp reviews are spreading across the internet to replace ones that have existed for years. Simply put, Yelp is quickly becoming THE venue for advice on how to spend your money.
The accusations against Yelp are still relatively unfounded, and Yelp representative have come back at business owners with their own accusations of foul play.
So… Is Yelp the newest swindler of the trade, or are these complaints just the chatter of the internet illiterate who’s real problem is a business model that doesn’t work in the 21st century? Business owners, that’s for you to look in the mirror and determine, because as it stands right now, the jury’s out.
So, listen up business owners. Whether you appreciate Yelp or distrust it, whether it’s helped you grow or pushed you the fall, there is one thing we all have to acknowledge. Yelp has pull, so it’s time to give a damn about your bad reputation.
Set Up Shop
For businesses that are just getting their feet wet with online reviews, you might as well try to embrace the social platform for all it’s good, for there is quite a bit of it
Start by activating your Yelp page and putting some actual effort into it. Don’t leave your reviewers to fill out your information. Add cool pictures that both represent your product and would entice your potential customer. If your location has its own private parking lot, yelp out for the world to know.
Think of your Yelp page as an alternative storefront for a vast world of digital pedestrians. Would you want someone walking by your pizzeria to see a minimally decorated sign with boarded up windows? Would you expect someone to want to try the pizza from a place like that? Of course not, don’t be absurd.
Yelp works on the same basic premise. The more your customers know, the more likely they are to trust what you’re selling them. Also, the more active you are on Yelp, the more traffic you bring to the site. Yelp want this. It’s good for everyone involved.
So when it comes time to make their ransom rounds, they just might decide to forego your digital doorstep… this time.
Also, there’s no reason you can’t use your real storefront to advertise your digital one. Join the ranks of proud business owners who eagerly pop these suckers up all over shop.
By guiding your customers toward Yelp, you’re doing two things.
- Encouraging positive reviews
- Presenting your reputation with nothing to hide
A few scathing reviews on Yelp can linger like an elephant in the room, but if you carry on like Yelp doesn’t even exit, those reviews will just keep accumulating until they turn into this. It’s definitely best to advocate complete transparency, and hope that your product’s value will garner the recognition it deserves.
Add links to all your websites, blogs, or social media to make it easy for customers to give you reviews. When you do get good ones, display them proudly, both online and off.
Haters Be Hatin’
Even the best-run businesses, however, are likely to get a bad review every once in a while. Your best tactic is to be prepared when they come in..
Turn bad reviews into an opportunity for growth and outreach. Yelp allows business owners to respond to the individual reviewer. You could either use this feature to tell all your naysayers to shove it, or you could use the opportunity to mend the broken link that led to this poor review.
Address their concerns, let them know you take their satisfaction very seriously, and flex your most developed customer service muscles. If you feel like your public image would benefit from this discourse, you can even respond publicly to the review. Take the time to be polite, understanding, and even funny, and you can turn even the nastiest slam into a growing experience for everyone involved.
And keep in mind, that having this kind of honest and open discourse with your customer base is GREAT for business. Accept your incoming criticism as a free customer-driven company audit. They’re telling you what’s not working. Now, you can fix it. When the next Yelper to try your product notices the improvement, they’ll be more likely to leave a review of their own. Little by little, reforming your practices will lead to more positive feedback and, in turn, more customers.
“Now that’s just crazy,” you may think. “The market will be left to regulate itself? That’s… that’s…” Yes. That’s capitalism. Deal with it.
Cleaning Up Your Act
Unfortunately, there’s no legal or ethical way to remove bad reviews from your Yelp page, so the trick is to wash them out.
This strategy shouldn’t just be limited to Yelp alone. You don’t want a Google search for your product to conjure a rogue’s gallery of angry reviews. Fixing that mess just comes down to owning your brand. Beef up your social media presence and high authority content to assure that at least the first page of Google is content that you can control.
By supersaturating your online presence with positive feedback, you can wash the antagonizers down the river to the page 10, where the trolls live.
It seems like the overarching theme of this whole self-yelp guide is that a quality product and service will speak itself. If Yelp is really using bad reviews to strong-arm it’s users into paying for advertising, strike first but cutting off their ammunition.
Business owners shouldn’t make a habit of crusading against any third party enterprise that raises accountability. They should instead, focus that energy on adapting to new technologies and learning how to use the new advertising landscape to boost business revenues. It’s your place, as business managers, to decide whether your experience with Yelp will be a cautionary tale, or a memoir of your success!
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