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Are Your Business’ Happy Yelps Being Muzzled?

This month I received a phone call from an automobile repair shop owner whose business is taking a beating because of its bad showing on Yelp.  There are 7 reviews for his shop online, and 6 of them gave the service 1 star.

The owner told me that awhile ago he was approached by Yelp to buy ads on the site.  At that time he had a lot of positive reviews.  He said that after he declined to advertize, he noticed that his positive reviews started disappearing from the site.  They were being removed by Yelp’s filter.

Yelp lets you see the reviews it has removed from active rankings.  When I checked, the repair place had 22 filtered reviews, and those had an average rating of 4.22 stars.

Yelp Review Matrix -- Filtered vs. Unfiltered

Yelp Review Matrix -- Filtered vs. Unfiltered

I dug around some to see if I could quickly discover a reason — either benign or evil — for Yelp’s filtering.  I couldn’t.  Maybe you can discover a pattern or suggest more review characteristics to check. (Click on the table above to download a PDF of my research.)

I noticed that many of the five-star reviews might be suspicious because they’re from people without profile photographs and from people who had written one review on Yelp, the filtered one for the auto shop.

Many of the filtered reviews were from reviewers whose other reviews are also being filtered by Yelp.  I checked their profiles and clicked on the links to their reviews to see if those reviews showed up.  It looked like that Yelp — for some reason — distrusted everything that these people wrote.

On the other hand, some of the filtered reviews came from people whose comments on other businesses are being displayed, and one of the visible one-star reviews was written by a person without a profile photo who had only reviewed this business.

In addition, when I read the positive reviews, there was no obvious pattern in what was said or the length of the review.  None of the 5-star raves sounded fake to my human ear.

So, why has Yelp decided to show 7 reviews averaging 1.57 stars instead of displaying all 29 with an average of 3.58 stars?  Is it revenge against a non-advertiser?

Yelp is deliberately unhelpful.  They say:

We intentionally make the filter difficult to reverse engineer — otherwise, we would be overrun by reviews written by people hoping to game the system. So while it may be tough to decipher how the filter works, the rules are actually the same for every business and every review.

I understand why Yelp wants to show only real-person penned, non-financially-motivated reviews.  We all want to know that the rave we are reading is an honest report from a customer and that it was not written by friends, relatives, or the owner himself.

Still, Yelp’s software seems — at best — arbitrary.  Its decisions don’t conform to obvious logic, and many — if not most or ALL — of the filtered reviews sure sound like they’re legitimate.

Worse, there is no obvious way to contact Yelp for support.  I could not locate  a  phone number to call or appeal process for the business owner to follow.  So, the business owner has to live with a rant-filled 1.5 online profile that kills his business.

I’ve heard Len Tillum, a lawyer with a radio show on KGO, tell anguished business owners that there’s nothing they can do legally about perceived unfair filtering on Yelp.  He’s said that a web site owner, like Yelp, can decide what content they want on their site for whatever reason.

However, for those of us to rely on Yelp and Yelp ourselves, more transparency would be appreciated.  I want to know that the 1-star business is truly a place I should avoid and not that its owner just decided he couldn’t afford to advertize at Yelp.

Do you see a pattern in the filtering that I’ve missed?  Let me know your insights by posting here or email me (if you email, please answer the spam challenge!).

By |2011-08-22T09:15:21-07:00August 21st, 2011|Social Media, Yelp|3 Comments

Yelp Ends Free Announcement and Special Offer Postings

This afternoon I logged on a Yelp business account.  The  account is for my church, the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, and most weeks I post the weekly service description as an announcement in the 140 characters Yelp has offered for free.  The description shows up highlighted on the church’s Yelp page so visitors can check out what’s coming up that Sunday.

Today Yelp greeted me with a pop up saying that they were phasing out announcements and special offer notices August 11th.

Yelp Notice Ending Its Free Special Offers and Annoucements

Yelp said they’re stopping the free announcements because business owners had requested a better way to reach people. That smacks of an untruth, frankly. I doubt any business asked the free highlighting to stop so they can sign up and pay Yelp to offer special deals.

In fact, I am not even sure that as a consumer I need yet another deal-offering site.  Groupon, Living Social, and Google are all offering deals of the day — Google’s announcement of a program for San Francisco was on the news just today.  Yelp and Open Table have also sent me deal emails in the past months.  A steadier stream of deals from Yelp won’t be welcome in my inbox.

And,  really?  Yelp is making this change for my business, the church?  Wow.  What kind of Yelp deal should my church offer?

A special deal on salvation?  Unfortunately, hellfire isn’t a part of Unitarian Universalist theology, so we’d have to work on exactly what we’re offering.  We don’t encourage visitors to contribute to the collection plate, so we cannot offer a discount there either. Would you want two sermons for the price of one, anyway?

But, I am sure Yelp’s sales staff will call us and help us figure out something we can advertize.

Ultimately, it’s disappointing that non-profit community groups are getting slammed in Yelp’s zeal to monetize its pages.

By |2011-07-12T17:41:46-07:00July 12th, 2011|Social Media, Yelp|1 Comment

Google+ Wants to Use What You Post Forever

Guy Burns has done a quick, non-lawyer comparison between the supposedly evil Facebook’s and the supposedly “do no evil” Google’s social media policies.  It’s an extremely ugly comparison for Google.

From Guy’s public Google+ post:

Google’s rights to use your IP: perpetual and irrevocable
Facebook’s rights to use your IP: revokable (sort of)

Google+ Terms of Service, section 11.1
“You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services. 11.2 You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.”

Facebook Terms of Service, section 2.1
“For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

Google is dangerously overreaching, in my opinion.  They are asserting that they have the right to use whatever you post — apparently regardless of what limited circle of friends you initially limited your post to.  This means there is no privacy or security on ANY posts.

Not only can Google use what you write, photograph, or draw, they can adapt, modify, publicly display, etc., etc. your work for their benefit.  Forever.

This is not reasonable, by any stretch of the imagination.

I strongly advise writers, artists, photographers… anyone who produces anything creative, to refrain from posting it on Google+ unless/until Google+ modifies their Intellectual Property Term of Service.  (See section 11 and all of the Google+ terms online.)  I won’t be posting creative pieces nor photographs on Google+ myself while the current terms are in effect.

I also strongly advise people against posting anything to any Google+ circle that they don’t want their mother, their boss, or their future spouse to see.

With no circle privacy settings honored, something you wrote to a limited group of people, may be broadcast inappropriately.  When your mother is looking up dolls as gifts for the grandchildren, she can be confronted with a Google+ social networking ad that suggests she buy a “Blow Up Doll like Your Son Said He Likes.”  Won’t that be a fun discussion for you and mom to have?

By |2011-07-11T17:25:31-07:00July 11th, 2011|Google+, Social Media|1 Comment

Google+: Another Technology Time Sink

My mantra at the computer system integration company I worked at was, “Just because the technology exists, that doesn’t mean you need to use it.”

My comment was a variation of  bemoaning “a solution in search of a problem.”

Which brings me to Google+.

This afternoon I set up Google+ for [email protected]. I spent a very short time figuring out what I think I’m supposed to do. It was pretty straight-forward. Quickly I spiffed my profile, played with my circles [friends lists], and spewed an offering to my stream [news feed].

So far, my experience has been very Facebooky… except that there are not many people on Google+ (so there’s not much to read) and there isn’t a mechanism I see for business/personality fan pages.

Google+ Link gets a 404 ErrorThere is one nice feature that Facebook lacks, and that’s the ability to edit a posting that you’ve already made. And, I am hoping that Google’s search technology will let me search my own stream [“stream” still sounds dirty to my perverted Puritanical mind] for things I posted in the distant past. That’d be a big improvement over Facebook’s operation where the old material that you’ve written goes into the cosmic bit bucket.

Google+ also lets you include people in your stream messages who aren’t on their service. You can include anyone in one of your circles, whether or not they’re using Google+. If they are not members of the cult, Google+ will send them email with your stream entry. Unfortunately, this notification of non-Google+ people wasn’t working so well this afternoon. Google+ sent my test account an email with my posting, but the link to see more resulted in a 404 error code. Hmmmm!

But, back to my initial comments.

Do I need another social network technology to check and update? Do I want to spend more time keeping in touch? After Facebook and Twitter… and the corresponding accounts for my business clients… I think I may need more time to DO things instead of talking about what I’ve done.

By |2011-07-09T09:32:34-07:00July 8th, 2011|Google+, Social Media|0 Comments

LinkedIn Lets Me Opt Out

Last week I complained that LinkedIn’s new privacy policy lets them use your image and name for their ads and the opt-out links didn’t work.  I sent LinkedIn email on Friday telling them their opt-out system didn’t work.  I didn’t hear anything, so Tuesday I wrote a letter to their legal department, and sent it to their legal notification address yesterday.

Today, I received a straight-forward response from a paralegal at LinkedIn giving me a different opt-out link that works. I’ve updated my account, and I think you can use the same link for your LinkedIn account.

Of course, It really should not take so much effort to opt-out. Certainly it should require spending $5-something to send their attorneys a certified complaint.

From: [paralegal]
Sent: Thursday, July 07, 2011 2:13 PM
To: [email protected]
Subject: Opting out of Social Ads on LinkedIn (re: your letter of 7/5/11)

Dear Mr. Workman,

LinkedIn received your letter regarding problems opting out of having your name, picture and other personal information used in our advertising.

The link to the opt-out that you cited in your letter is a little different than the URL I’m seeing when I click through the policy from the link at the bottom of our main page:  Please give that one a try, as it should take you to a login screen and then straight to the “Manage Social Advertising” box, which looks like a pop-up.

If you are still having problems, you can also access the opt-out by logging into your account, clicking on the “Settings” drop down (under your name at the top right corner of the screen) and then selecting the “Account” tab at the bottom left.  The first selection under the Privacy Controls heading is “Manage Social Advertising,” and clicking on that will bring up the box where you can opt out.

LinkedIn Opt Out Link

We appreciate that you took the time to write and call this to our attention.  I don’t know why the link in your letter is different than the one I got when I clicked through the policy, but I will share your letter and the problematic links with our product team to see if they can reproduce what you experienced and repair any bugs they find.


By |2011-07-07T15:45:06-07:00July 7th, 2011|Social Media|0 Comments