Thrice in the last few months I've heard of sad tails from small business owners in my professional network about Yelp. Basically, the peeps claim that Yelp will remove negative reviews (or bury them) - regardless if they are true or not - in exchange for paid-advertising. So I started to do some research and I learned in October 2011, there was a dismissed with prejudice class-action lawsuit against Yelp for this very thing which means it was A#1) dismissed and B#2) ruled they can't be sued for this practice again. But the sad stories don't stop coming about what appears to be a very alive and thriving practice. Click here for source.
Back in 2009, the East Bay Express wrote an article, "Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0," and as of this month (January 12, 2013), folks are still leaving comments as to how they have been been - to put it mildly - screwed by Yelp and their business practices. There's also this ongoing discussion over at Reddit.
So some tips to those who Yelp:
1) I've found a few hard-core Yelpers that I've gotten to know and have given hundreds if not thousands of reviews and I follow their recommendations when I'm desperate for direction.
2) It's okay to solicit a business if it doesn't have a Yelp review. Discovering the undiscovered in a wired world can be a thrilling experience.
3) If there are a lot of reviews for a business, play with the sorting. You can sort by the following, 1) Yelp Sort, 2) Date, 3) Rating, Elites', or 4) Facebook Friends'.
I am a small business owner and an avid supporter of locally- and independently-owned businesses and small businesses are most affected by this practice since they don't have the budgets nor the resources of larger businesses or corporations to combat this alleged practice. My data-set is small, but it's enough to make me question and at least ask questions when I'm looking at a review. As a Yelper myself, I am angered if I have had consistent negative experiences with a business and Yelp has buried my valid review in exchange for a fee. Likewise, I also keep in mind that just as positive reviews could be fabricated so can the negative. Bottom line: Yelp responsibly.
Onwards. Here's to discovering the undiscovered!