First, there was the carpet cleaner who sued anonymous Yelp reviewers over bad reviews. Then there was the hotel that withheld deposits from guests who left negative comments on the popular review site. Now a Brooklyn restaurant is offering free meals through Craigslist to customers willing to rave about its food.
The now-removed ad, posted on Dec. 4, sought out Yelp reviewers with established or elite profiles to review the Littleneck seafood restaurant in exchange for meals. It doesn’t specify “good” reviews, but that seems to be implied.
Aaron Lefkove, one of the owners of Littleneck, told amNY that the ad didn’t come from them, and that he may pursue legal action against the person who posted it.
“We definitely did not post that,” LefKove told amNY in an email. “I imagine it’s an unhappy customer or a former business partner who we took legal action against and who does childish stuff like this.”
Buying positive reviews may be a marginally better reputation management solution than punishing customers for negative comments, but it’s still against Yelp’s terms of service, which ban paying or providing incentives for good reviews.
Yelp reviews can make or break small businesses, so it’s no surprise that companies are scrambling to control the way their business is viewed online.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, Yelp reviews are now on par with Michelin’s restaurant ratings for reliability, even though Michelin uses professional reviewers and Yelp opens up the process to anyone. Ratings for restaurants in New York, at least, mostly agree between the two review platforms.
Though Yelp reviews are undeniably important, companies who try to rig them tend to be met with nothing but bad press. Most of the time, customers are better off addressing customer complaints as they arise. They can also polish the areas of web presence that they control, like social media, web design and company blogs.
“What Littleneck has done goes against the terms of service of Yelp. With each star rating on yelp, you gain about 5-9% business, so it makes a lot of sense for people to cheat the system. However, you should address the audience, take in their advice, and make changes,” explains John Perlman, Director of Social Media at On Top Visibility. “Yelp can be a great tool that helps your business, but not addressing complaints can hurt your score and in turn hurt your business. Engage with the community and take Yelp as a positive — not a negative — in order to drive revenue.”