A few months ago, I wrote about my interviews with owners and managers of local restaurants – many of whom were not at all shy in voicing their negative opinions about Yelp. Part of their frustration, I think, comes from businesses’ inability to “opt out” of Yelp. For example, one manager I spoke with said: “I wish I could remove my business from their site.” But Yelp lists businesses whether they want to be listed or not.
I just learned about a West Coast restaurant that has been waging an anti-Yelp campaign and exercising its agency in an unusual way: by offering customers a discount if they post 1-star reviews of their business. Yep, you read that right. They are encouraging people to write negative reviews about their business on Yelp!
This tactic (which I mean in the Certeauian sense) simultaneously taps into some reviewers’ creativity and desire to write witty, parodic texts.
Here are some highlights:
Terrible. They would not allow me to bring my own food from home and enjoy it in their warm and inviting dining room.
The service was way too friendly. I had to take a half day vacation due to the options. Way too authentic and reasonable too. Nothing like Olive Garden where you get all that bread and salad.
I don’t understand how this place is still even open! The place is too clean, there’s tons of alcohol behind the counter, and the food is good?
As one reviewer writes: “Brilliant way to stick it to Yelp.” But at the same time, this tactic creates a conundrum for those reviewers who really do have a complaint with the establishment, since it may be difficult for readers to discern a “real” negative review from the dozens of “fake” 1-star reviews (many of which are ambivalent in the sentiment they express).
I’m amazed when people who use Yelp haven’t heard about the Yelp filter! For instance, 20 seconds into the trailer for the forthcoming documentary, Billion Dollar Bully, several Yelp users are shown on camera saying “Filtered reviews? What are those? Are those the bad reviews?”
The short answer is that all reviews posted on Yelp automatically get screened by Yelp’s in-house filtering software. This software uses an algorithm to determine which reviews seem to be legit (and those are the ones we get to see), and then “filters” those reviews which appear not to be legit (roughly 25% of reviews). Interestingly, those reviews which have been filtered and identified as suspicious are still available to readers…but in order to view them, you have to scroll aaaaaaaaaallllllllll the way dowwwwwwnnnnn to the veeeerrrrrry bottom of the business’s listing on Yelp and then click on a small bit of text that says “ [# of] other reviews that are not currently recommended.” How many users will actually bother to do that? Probably not too many.
Recently, I came across an interesting study in the online journal, First Monday, which compared a random sample of filtered reviews and non-filtered, visible reviews on Yelp. While the author found no linguistic differences between the two data sets, he did find that non-filtered reviews tended to be slightly longer than filtered reviews. He also found that non-filtered reviews were written by authors whose profiles tended to include photos of themselves (this was much less often the case for the authors of filtered reviews) – and that non-filtered reviews tended to be written by people who were prolific reviewers on Yelp with lots of Yelp friends. The reviews that had been filtered were often written by a person who had only posted 1 review (or a few), and who had no (or very few) Yelp friends. In a story about Yelp from last week’s local newspaper, a Yelp spokesperson calls these kinds of authors “drive-by Yelpers.”