Small Businesses Don’t Like Rogue Consumers’ Negative Opinions

Consumer generated content gets a lot of media attention these days, but there’s one form of CGC that’s generating bad feelings and legal action.
According to The New York Times, consumer review site, Yelp, has been hit with three class-action lawsuits from businesses claiming that Yelp sales representatives tried to press the businesses into advertising by offering — or threatening — to manipulate reviews. It’s a claim Jeremy Stoppelman, a Yelp co-founder and its chief executive, roundly denies.
I have to agree, the complaint seems ludicrous. What’s not up for debate though is the anger small businesses sometimes feel towards Yelp.
Here’s a slice of the Times interview:

Q. If nothing else, do you think you have a public relations problem?
A. There’s simply anger over the accountability that Yelp brings and also this feeling of powerlessness because so much power is now being put in the hands of the consumer. But the important thing that gets lost with some of these business owners who are very upset with us is it’s the whole picture that counts. Focusing on that one review you feel is unfair misses the value, which is the whole symphony of opinions you get on your page.

Yelp’s problems provide a fascinating case study. Most small business owners could care less about Web 2.0, customer empowerment, transparency, et al. Instead, they put everything they have into their product or service offering, and they feel victimized by a site that airs their dirty laundry, which might not even be dirty.
I think we can agree that people say things online that they wouldn’t say in person. And sadly, there’s very little accountability from the owners of a given media property. In Yelp’s case, they’re not inclined to remove take downs, deserved or otherwise, because they don’t want to strip power away from their biggest fans and site users.
In my opinion, bad reviews on Yelp are also a problem for the reader. When I look at Yelp and see that some people love a place, but others do not, I don’t know who to believe. Sure, you can look into a reviewer’s history on the site, but who the hell wants to spend that kind of time and energy? I want to know if the Pad Thai is any good, not if the reviewer is honest, biased, angry or on mood altering meds.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.