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Yelp, please don’t give a bully pulpit to bullies.

March 22, 2016

 

Jeremy Stoppelman
Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Yelp, Inc.
140 New Montgomery
San Francisco, CA 94105

RE: Please don’t give a bully pulpit to bullies.

 

Dear Mr. Stoppelman,

 

Review blackmail is a very real problem, and I urge you to do more to address it on Yelp.

 

You must get letters like this all the time from restauranteurs and hoteliers whose very reputations and livelihoods hang in the balance because of dishonest consumers who are getting a bully pulpit on social media review sites.

 

The influence of online reviews is growing, and the amount of time and money that businesses must spend “managing” these intrusive systems and manipulative reviews is growing as well. On an increasingly alarming basis, the overnight reports coming from restaurant floor staffs include not just sales from the prior day, but also detailed information about customers in the establishment threatening bad reviews in order to extract a service they insist upon.

 

For instance, three days ago, a party of TWELVE walked into a client restaurant at the busy 6pm dinner hour with no reservations, and demanded to be seated at once at one big table or they would write reviews on social media about how rude and uncooperative restaurant staff was. “We’ll just Yelp it,” they said. These words strike fear in the hearts of restaurant workers, because they know what’s coming.

 

(By the way, the rattled workers found a way for the party to be seated together and served, but the party complained the whole time about everything, continuing the “Yelp it” threats about food, service, etc. They were liberally comped, getting much free food along the way, which did not discourage them from writing multiple bad reviews across multiple social media ratings sites.)

 

Between lost revenue on the comped food, hours paying employees to discuss/recap/rebut the situations, and the lost revenue from consumers who will read the spate of bad reviews and choose another establishment, this one party has cost the restaurant hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars simply by showing up at their door.

 

Most people reading reviews to make their purchase decisions don’t realize that Review blackmail is rampant.

 

For the growing numbers of people doing it, they’re not likely to stop because it is a very effective way to get tables without reservations, free food and untold other goodies, and, last but not least, the thrill of making people sweat.

 

Many of the other review sites are heightening their efforts to give businesses an opportunity to report Review Blackmail through their interfaces. And they are expending resources beyond their “algorithms” to correct some of these bad situations. I urge Yelp to please step up your efforts in this area. It’s the right thing to do.

 

BETTER YET: Please give businesses the opportunity to OPT-OUT of Yelp. Last year we tried to have a business listing removed permanently from Yelp, happily willing to forgo Yelp’s tremendous exposure by requesting a permanent deletion of the listing from Yelp’s database.

 

We were told by Yelp staff that it was not possible for a business to be deleted from Yelp because Yelp users “have a right to know” about a business’ existence, details and reviews. This policy forces businesses to participate in your system and to dedicate resources to it as well.

 

Perhaps you could offer businesses the opportunity to pay an annual subscription fee to opt-out of Yelp. I’m sure you’d have some takers.

 

HERE’S ANOTHER IDEA: Give businesses a chance to opt into a system of reviewing your USERS, to help decide who should just be turned away at the door, or who should get to order off a discounted menu. Let’s reward the well-behaved for a change.

 

Sincerely,

 

Robin Whitney
Park City, UT

 

robin@oneletteraday.net
Never underestimate the difference you can make.

 

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