Yelp, like all Internet forums, draws some insidious awful voices, which can present particular problems for businesses trying to solicit customers. The way Yelp works, these businesses can't remove comments, even of the most trollish sort, because that would ruin Yelp's whole set-up. Yelp wants to act as an accurate portrayal of local businesses, after all. The review site does, however, have a filter, which gets rid of the top-shelf garbage. But not all bad reviews constitute spam. And sometimes, a bad burger deserves a rant. When faced with these negative customer reviews, some restaurants and shops might just look the other way. But, others do something about it, which is only sometimes a good idea. Let's take a look.
The Best Ways to Handle a Bad Yelp Review
Business: JoeDough, a New York City sandwich shop.
The Bad Review: The Yelp page is actually sprinkled with some 1 star reviews, giving the place a 3 star rating. But the one in particular that has the shop riled says the following:
Probably the worst meatball sandwich (special of the day) I have had in the tri-state area in my 32 years of living here, especially for $12. In all fairness I have not had the other sandwiches but with prices like that coupled with underwhelming food and slow service this will be a skip in the future. Joe Hell No!
Why This Is Smart: This establishment embraced the bad review, using it to its benefit. Rather than let customers read about it on the Internet, JoeDough took this IRL, putting it on a sign for passers-by to see, we learn via Neatorama. Though this won't help the company's ranking on Yelp, it will not only entice potential buyers who pass it on the street -- we're intrigued, aren't you? -- but thanks to its cleverness, the sign has gotten the restaurant publicity all over the Internet. Good job, JoeDough for this creative and grown-up way to handle criticism.
Business: Pizzeria Delfina, a Bay Area eatery.
The Bad Review: Though this restaurant has four stars, it has a handful of one-stars mixed in with the 1,503 musings. Here's a snippet of a particular rant with which Delfina took issue:
The pizza was soooo greasy. I am assuming this was in part due to the pig fat. A rather large puddle of grease actually pooled on my friends plate. We tried to get our waitress's attention but to no avail. I think it is important that you all know this place is rather small so to not get someones attention means they are really trying to ignore you.
What This Is Smart: This has the same effect as the sign. BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow put it well: "Instead of simply bitching about Yelp, they've made Yelp their bitch." Both the sign and the shirt also aim to make a general point about Yelp reviews: These people are inelegant trolls. One of Delfina's shirts just reads: "This place sucks." That is not a very helpful guide.
Tactic 3: Respond to bad reviews
Business: Anonymous wine and cheese shop owner.
The Bad Review: When this owner sees anything negative in a reivew, he engages with the reviewer.
What This Is Smart: This is the Yelp sanctioned way to handle reviews. As we learn from this handy video, a little attention can butter up a sour reviewer. (This works for comment trolls, too, by the way.) Yelp even has some guidelines for how to handle the most scathing writers. "Before responding to a negative review, take a deep breath and think very carefully about what you are going to write. Or even better, don't think too much: just keep it simple by thanking your customer for the patronage and feedback," explains Yelp's support page. And, here's why it often works: "By contacting your reviewer and establishing a genuine human relationship." It's harder to be evil to a human.
The Worst Ways to Handle a Bad Yelp Review
Tactic 1: Sue Yelp
Business: Haakon's Hall, a Morningside Heights, NY restaurant
The Bad Review: This place gets a four star review. But back in April 2010 owner James Lenzi accused Yelp of extortion, saying the site promoted bad reviews, when he refused to advertise with Yelp. “They’re blackmailing me to advertise with them,” he told The Columbia Spectator's Marc Kilstein. “They called me three times trying to get me to advertise. When I told them I couldn’t afford it, they said they could move around the reviews once I became a business client.”
Why This Is Not Smart: Lenzi looks like a paranoid baby -- a rare combination of ugly traits. Yelp denies the extortion. It sounds like Lenzi just doesn't know how the review filter works. "This automated process sometimes creates the perception that reviews are being deleted and re-added over time; what’s actually happening is users are becoming more-or-less established over time,"Chantelle Karl, East Coast public relations manager for Yelp.
Tactic 2: Sue the Reviewer
Business: Advanced Chiropractic Center, a chiropractor in San Francisco.
The Bad Review: The posting no longer exists on Yelp, but Christopher Norberg posted a negative review suggesting the doctor was dishonest, according to CNET. Dr. Steven Biegel cried libel, claiming the review caused "loss of reputation, shame, mortification, and hurt feelings," and "injury to his business and profession," per the complaint.
Why This Is Not Smart: If you can't stand the trolls, get off the Internet. The two eventually settled, but this is the Internet, doctor. And on these here Webs, people can and will say things that hurt your feelings.
Tactic 3: Cajole users into posting good reviews, to push away the bad ones.
Business: Boundless Yoga, a Washington, D.C. yoga studio.
The Bad Review: There isn't a particular review, but this studio offered a free yoga class to those who wrote a review on Yelp. To get the class, one would have to send the link to the studio. So, the incentive to be nice was high.
Why This Is Not Smart: As Yelp's director of Business Outreach, Luther Lowe explained to The Atlantic Wire, its robot filter knows. "Businesses that are pretty aggressive about soliciting almost always have a lot of reviews filtered," he told us. Boundless indeed has 53 filtered reviews out of 75 total, much higher than the site wide average of 20 percent. "Your behavior in sharing that info was governed by the market, you didnt do that because for no other reason than to share with the world," continued Lowe. "Yelp thinks thats not good for creating the best user experience offline."