Yelp and other online review sites encourage people to review restaurants, retail establishments, healthcare providers, hotels and more. Nowadays, you don’t always have to be a celebrity or powerful politician in order to get people to listen – blogs, social media site, Yelp, TripAdvisor and other online destinations are where consumers share their thoughts, ideas and opinions. The attraction of these review sites is that the reviews are not advertisements or spin developed by clever marketing or PR professionals – these are honest and legitimate comments… usually.
Many people look to sites like Yelp to help them book a restaurant for a special occasion or make a hotel reservation for a trip they have been looking forward to for months – after all, if you can’t trust your peers, then who can you trust? Yelp, Travelocity, TripAdvisor, OpenTable and other social media channels need honest reviews of customers to drive traffic – and people look to these sites to help guide their most important purchasing decisions.
Business owners and sales managers are fully aware of how powerful these customer reviews are and know that certain star ratings and customer comments can have a meaningful impact on their business – good or bad. That is why when Yelp officials found that some of its businesses were “buying” good reviews – it struck at the very heart of Yelp’s business and brought into question the integrity of their entire business model. Today, Yelp is one of the most powerful “review” sites with 30 million reviews, according to the New York Times. Consumers need to know that the reviews are honest and real and when Yelp officials discovered that several companies were “manipulating” results and paying or bribing customers to write fake good reviews, Yelp officials went on the offensive.
Yelp officials wrote in their blog, “… the allure of a page full of five-star reviews can turn even the most ethical business owner starry-eyed and persuade some to attempt to game the system by paying for reviews…this pretty much breaks every rule in the book, not to mention it’s just wrong to mislead consumers with fake reviews. To combat this, we’ve put on our detective hats, tracked down these rogue solicitations and are now giving you a heads up…”
An example of a business manipulating reviews came from a Texas business owner “…who purchased 200 online reviews in an attempt to artificially bolster his business’s online reputation,” reported Yelp officials. As such, Yelp has put up a “consumer alert” flags on business sites they believe to be buying online reviews.
Yelp is not the only social media site that found it needed to go searching for “fake reviews” – the New York Times reported that “…TripAdvisor has put up similar warning notices, but declined to say how extensive its effort was…In general, however, review hubs have tended to deal with fakery very quietly, even as the problem has grown.”
Yelp, TripAdvisor and other review sites are policing their sites more vigorously. Their model depends on honesty – if people start to doubt the legitimacy of the reviews, then the purpose sites will lose their perceived value. As a Yelp blog reported: “We want to make sure consumers are making informed decisions… the large majority of businesses on Yelp play by the rules and work tirelessly to provide the best customer service and products to their clients. We salute their efforts and entrepreneurship. They inspire us to work even harder to protect the site from faux reviews, so that they have a fair opportunity to bask in the glow of their shining stars.”