For small business owners, Yelp is a necessary evil. Cultivating good reviews on Yelp can sometimes feel like pulling teeth, but it’s all worth it if those reviews help you generate leads, right? Maybe… or maybe not.
An investigative documentary called Billion Dollar Bully is looking into what they call a “$3.6 billion racket against small business owners.” Yelp has been accused of shady practices for years, especially in regards to small businesses. Extortion, review manipulation and fabrication… Yelp has always denied it, but this documentary is digging into the claims. As the name implies, I wouldn’t anticipate a flattering portrayal.
Yelp has reacted to the independent niche documentary with surprising vigor, making fierce criticisms that are both reasonable (pointing out that most claims against them have been dismissed by the FTC or the judicial system) and unreasonable – going after the personal character of the documentary’s creator. With the project having exceeded its Kickstarter goal, this is shaping up to be a long and ugly affair.
But how does this affect you as a small business owner? The problem is that, regardless of whether or not the accusations of mistreatment of small businesses by Yelp are true, most potential leads simply won’t care – if they’re even aware of them in the first place. As long as the average person continues to view Yelp as a reliable, trustworthy source of reviews you’ll need to keep maintaining your presence on the site whether you want to or not. It might not be fun, but throwing in the towel will only further damage your ability to generate leads. As long as Yelp remains popular, working within a broken system is preferable to giving up on it.
Now, that doesn’t mean you should ignore these accusations. For starters, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with them so you can defend yourself if you ever encounter problems. But you’ll also want to see how the situation plays out – if Billion Dollar Bully gains stream and enters the mainstream, leads may lose their trust in Yelp and you’ll be able to safely disengage from the service.
But that’s an unlikely hypothetical situation that, even if it does play out, could be years down the line. By all means, keep an eye on the documentary, both out of professional interest and personal curiosity – it’s a fascinating story. But if you’re serious about lead generation, you’re going to have to keep using Yelp whether you like it or not, at least for the foreseeable future.