My last post, “How to win at Yelp: a guide for businesses” was inspired by the recent controversies surrounding Yelp, and the gist of the post is just what it sounds like. However, I think there are some things Yelp can – and should – do to address allegations of fraud and extortion (beyond a predictable blog post by the CEO).
So here’s my advice for Yelp…
#1. Reveal the “secret algorithms” that determine the order in which reviews appear. This will eliminate any questions about whether your staff can manipulate things. Your algorithms aren’t your differentiator, your special sauce or your value proposition. Being transparent about them won’t hurt you.
#2. Institute a clear and explicit code of conduct for your sales team and seriously investigate complaints about specific sales people. You cannot plausibly deny all the reports of overly-aggressive Yelp sales agents, questionable promises and veiled threats. So take the allegations seriously, and demonstrate that you are taking measures to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future.
#3. Prohibit employees from writing reviews. I know this one won’t go over well, but a perceived conflict of interest is a real one. “Community first, consumers second and businesses third” is fine, but the fact that your revenue comes from businesses puts them first in a way. Bottom line: Real reviews by “real people” shouldn’t include Yelp employees.
#4. Don’t “automatically” remove reviews – not permanently anyway. Your system should be able to flag reviews and nothing more. It should take a person to permanently remove a review from the site, and when it happens, you need to notify both the reviewer and the business and let them know exactly why it was removed. The reason should correlate to specific violations of one or more terms of service.
#5. Enlist help. The previous piece of advice would mean more work for you. Significantly more. And you’re already having trouble finding your way to profitability. So I suggest you create a panel of “super users” (from the pool of Yelp Elites perhaps) whose job is to validate all flagged reviews to determine whether to take them down or leave them.
That’s it. Thanks for listening.
We love you Yelp, but we need to know we can trust you.