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Yelpers Yelping on Yelp

Yelpers, please understand how Yelp works.
Yelpers Yelping on Yelp

Ok Google “Define Yelper”.. One who Yelps, especially a yelping dog.. No, no, no.  That is such a pre-internet definition.

Let’s keep scrolling. Ah, there it is.. Wow, strong, somewhat angry opinions. Ok Google, never mind, we’ll define this. First things first, there are affiliate links on this page, click for full disclosure.

Yelper – A person who contributes online reviews, on the website or app, Yelp. We’ll go with this definition, for the purpose of this post.

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And what is the purpose of this post you may ask.

A lawsuit involving Yelpers suing Yelp.

When you think of the concept of Yelp, it seems like a useful tool. The common place to write a review of a restaurant, online shop, or a retail store.  The “go to” website where people, can share their experiences with others. A resource for people deciding where to eat dinner, what hotel to stay at, or what barber shop to avoid. For better or worse, it’s part of the modern world.

On the surface, Yelp seems fairly innocuous. Scratch that same surface, and well, not so harmless. Let’s face it, it’s also a site to read some horrible experiences just for the sake of reading some horrible experiences. Admit it, you’ve jumped to those one star reviews before the five. We’ve all been there, we’ve all done it.

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What the general public tends to forget is the business aspect of Yelp. It can be a tool for a company to scope out the competition, see what people are saying, attempt to gauge certain markets, or be just plain nosey. Also a way to advertise. From Yelp’s standpoint, this is why they want you on their platform.. Ad dollars. Just like the other tech giants, this isn’t about helping you. It’s about being profitable.

Fulfilling a need, right?

Websites that offer the ability to write or read reviews, are nothing new. There are numerous platforms are out there and they have been around the internet in one form or another since the dawn of commercial internet. It seems like there is every other platform and then there is Yelp. At least from a controversy standpoint.

Yelp has had no shortages of negative press over the last few years:  

News of lawsuits from business owners against Yelp.

News of lawsuits from businesses against past customers for bad reviews.

Even phony news story of Yelp suing the cartoon, South Park. It’s satire people, just laugh!

Yelpers even suing Yelp. Yes, this one from a few years back blew my mind. This day in age, news of any type of lawsuits really shouldn’t be a surprise, however this one still made me do a double take.

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It did get me thinking though.

It got me questioning the mindset of Yelpers.

Do people who write reviews on Yelp, understand what Yelp ultimately does?  

Are they aware, that the work they do and content they write, has built Yelp into what it is?

Do they know that Yelp sells an advertising product to businesses?

Is there an understanding of the risk posting a review online?

Do they know Yelp is a publicly traded company?

My guess is no. My guess is also, most people don’t care.  

We’ve considered approaching this topic in a few different ways. Admittedly the conversation of turing this post into a rant about frivolous and baseless lawsuits was discussed. We don’t know every last detail of every case and there are always two sides to a story.

Let’s approach this a different way.

People often don’t fully understand how online platforms and networks operate. What is their deeper purpose and what role the user plays. Going to break this down a bit. If nothing else, provide some food for thought.

Be aware that you are giving a gift to Yelp by writing a review.  

This is true for any website. When we post on any platform, we often no longer own that content. Same it true for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Medium, or a message board. Consider it a gift from yourself, to that company. When you accept the terms and conditions to use that site, you often sign it all away.

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Websites are often built with the intent of making a profit. Yelp is a publicly traded company.  That means, they are more concerned with profits, than you picking the best possible place for a barbeque dinner. So remember, user generated content is a gift the users give to a platform..

Understand the key aspect here – User generated content.

Collectively, the user is doing an enormous amount of work on a review site such as Yelp. They are the driving force behind keeping Yelp moving. Reviewers will write, people looking for recommendations will read, Yelp will turn profit where it can. The user that never writes a post and simply reads reviews, is part of that equation as well. However, without that content existing in the first place, the user does not have the same experience, and Yelp is not as valuable.  

Without the Yelper Yelping, Yelp doesn’t have a Yelp to stand on. Think of it that way.  

Costs of maintaining websites and apps.

Of course, there is a far greater expense in operating a website or app getting millions of hits per day. It is a 24/7/365, full staff kind of operation.

Know why it’s relatively cheap for anyone to start their own website? Because you are sharing servers, provided by a host, with countless other websites who are getting low traffic volumes. The big sites and apps can’t do that. The servers will crash, the site will do down. When you getting massive amounts of traffic, with huge amounts of content, you’ll need your own servers and potentially a lot of them. That costs money. It’s understood that companies often attempt to profit off their websites.

Do the Yelpers understand..

One of their key strategies, is to sell advertising products and packages to businesses being reviewed on Yelp. Going back to the lawsuit of Yelpers suing Yelp..

Yelper – Every time you write a review, good or bad, you are potentially making Yelp money.  Just Yelp, not you.

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Again, this is true for any platform. It’s estimated that Facebook is hovering around the 2 billion active users mark. The users get nothing for updating their status, giving away huge amounts of data, hitting the like button, commenting, friending, unfriending, sharing, so on, and so on some more. Just like the Yelper, the Facebooker gets nothing for all their user generated content.

There seems to be a school of thought, that if you are contributing enough to the platform, that you are somehow an employee, or you are owed something. Even if Yelp is giving you digital perks or recognition of contribution.. Calling users “Elite” or giving them stars on their profile. It is a digital status symbol and nothing more.

The courts have shot these “you owe me for contributing to your platform” lawsuits down. You we’re never hired, you had no boss, nobody asked you to do anything. Not sure where this thought comes from in the first place, but it’s apparently out there.

Allow me to throw some thoughts out there.

If you are writing reviews with the intent of being compensated, negotiate the terms before posting. Don’t assume you have something coming to you. Get these terms in writing.  You can save yourself the time, energy, and the expenses.

If you are looking to monetize restaurant reviews, you can always start your own website or blog. You can write on Yelp and use those reviews to build your personal brand. Mention your blog without being spammy in your reviews. There are avenues to make money doing this.

Stay humble and grounded.

When you contribute to a site such as Yelp, you may believe you are providing valuable information to the site and other users. This is not necessarily true. Yelp, or it’s users, may not find your contribution at all valuable. Not being mean, just think about it from someone else’s point of view.

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Examples: Reviews written with errors in spelling and punctuation. The post was written with perceived anger or spite. There is reason to believe someone was paid or given perks for a positive review. Users reading the reviews may not care for your tastes or review methods. They think you’re too lenient. They think you’re too critical. Point is, you contribution may not be as valuable as you think.

Legal issues

Understand there is a difference between writing a negative review and slander. Two people can be looking at the same thing and have different views. Neither being right or wrong, just different. Things are subjective.

When you write a negative review and someone deems it as slander, you can face legal consequences. Even if that wasn’t your intent, this is a real issue. It does not mean it will hold up in court, but that doesn’t sound like a process anyone would want to go through. Costly, stressful, and time consuming.

Food for thought

A bit of advice if you are trying to build a solid reputation as a food critic. I you review five-star restaurant one night, don’t review the fast food taco place the next night. Especially if you’re holding them to the same standards. Just a thought.

To those who read Yelp reviews or any online review – Remember there are two sides to every story. Yes, someone may have a bad experience, however, key details may be left out of the story.

Their idea of a long wait in line could only a few minutes. The time waiting could be exaggerated. They may have been rude the staff. They could be judging the experience on aspects the business has no control over such as parking or other area events. Two sides to the coin.

Wrapping it up.

Again, you are contributing to the Yelp machine.  Part of that machine is an aggressive sales approach on behalf of Yelp to sell advertising to businesses.  Some of these businesses want nothing to do with this but must deal with Yelp regardless. Whether your review was positive or negative, it’s feeding the system.

Yelp isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.  It serves some degree of value and it’s natural to want to share our experiences with others. Just consider some of the things outline here before you post.  Don’t assume anything and be fair!

As always, thanks for reading!