[I know this news item is a few weeks old. I refrained from commenting for a while, but finally needed to throw a few comments into the hat, because I think they're important.]
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the recent, suspected move by Yelp to start charging business owners to have the most positive reviews pop up near the top of their viewable submissions on their Yelp page. In other words, if you want the good PR up top, front-and-center, you’ve gotta fork over.
Much of the backlash, any of which was inevitable, has been focused on the business owners. Yelp was originally set up as a non-biased, collective wisdom platform for people to get (mostly) honest information on the places around them. For a while, businesses may not have even known it existed. And when they did, they could do very little to change the content directly aside from reverting to unethical behavior and writing fake reviews. If they were smart, they took the stance that Yelp and other similar platforms existed and they should work within that – “let’s make sure we give everyone reason to write a good post” - a very good response in my opinion. The very fact that they couldn’t sway opinion much beyond that was why it worked. People trusted it. Any attempt to pay for better placement of any sort risks turning the site into another Zagat, and when was the last time you heard of the Zagat rating and didn’t immediately think “Eh, they probably paid for that.”
I’ve gotten off on a tangent now. What I did mention above that isn’t a tangent is the trust part. Back to the reason I wanted to comment on this. I still haven’t heard a lot of commentary that focused on the position of the reviewers in the equation, and I think it’s important.
The equation being talked about is:
Platform + Business = Opportunity…. so now it sounds like Yelp is in a position with its platform to leverage the fact that businesses could really benefit from the data on their platform.
BUT, the real equation is this:
End-User + Platform + Business = Opportunity….. the platform isn’t just the platform, it includes the original users of Yelp, the ones who gave Yelp all of its data.
In this case, and so many other cases, the users are forgotten in the equation (or at least not addressed in a lot of the commentary, as we’re so focused on monetization and the effects things like Yelp will have on the business world), and they’re too important to forget.
In fact, I would argue that without considering the user reaction that will result, this move – and probably any move – WILL break the model. If I think that something/someone is going to interfere in my attempt to inform a fellow end-user about a particular establishment, that my review is going to be manipulated, and, much worse, that someone else (let alone the very someone else that I just gave my data to altruistically) is going to profit from my review, I WILL stop using the platform. Many people will stop using the platform with a vengeance too. [Sidenote: I'm not a reviewer on Yelp....I'm in the 90% of users who just read.... something my husband yells at me about. But he is, and he's going to have a really hard time contributing to Yelp moving forward after hearing about these accusations]. Once that happens, all the submissions that Yelp is built upon will be gone.
The users are the reason Yelp exists in the first place.
Yelp reviewers expect that their reviews are being used for the sole purpose of undiscriminately informing other eaters/customers/whatevers like themselves. In their opinion, the transfer of info on Yelp is direct and it’s one-to-one or one-to-many:
I write a review, it goes directly to another end-user. There is no middle man, there’s no one controlling where my review ends up in the list, and absolutely there is no one profiting off my review, good or bad.
The business only becomes part of this equation in a third-party sense, the subject of this direct transfer of info from end-user to end-user. And you better believe that Yelp only enters this equation as the means to transfer the information. Nothing should be happening to their review in that transfer. A business should only benefit from my review because another person read it and it played a part in their decision-making. And more importantly, Yelp should allow a business to benefit from my review because I wrote it honestly and because I truly felt that this positive information would be valuable to other users like myself.
I’d really like to hear how Yelp took or will take the reviewer into account on this move. So much attention is put on the businesses in these situations, how to profit off of them, since that’s ultimately where the money is. I understand the desire of a platform as successful as Yelp that has so much opportunity, and I think that if they can figure out how to to it, by all means they should. But they should under no circumstances do it at the behest of the users. As I said above, they users are the reason Yelp exists in the first place. Don’t forget them.
What have your experiences been with Yelp? How do you feel about this recent move? What do you think the best way to move forward is for Yelp?
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