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We Hate Yelp and Funeral Homes Should Too

September 8, 2012

Ryan Thogmartin is the CEO of DISRUPT Media | Follower of Christ | Husband | Father | Entrepreneur | Host of #DISRUPTu! and #FUNERALnationtv | Lover of Skittles DISRUPT Media is a social media content agency that focuses on storytelling for funeral companies. We use real stories to build creative strategies that achieve actual business goals.

We Hate Yelp and Funeral Homes Should Too

I hate Yelp!


I recently had a conversation with a funeral home in Columbus, Ohio who said, “I think Yelp is shady, do you know anything about how they operate?”  In reply I said, “I have heard reports of Yelp manipulating the reviews left on the profile page of a business.” The funeral home said that they had experienced the same thing.

The director said they had 5 reviews on their funeral home Yelp business profile, 2 were negative and 3 were very positive. The positive reviews would only stay online for a short time and the negative reviews never went away. Yelp would then call and explain that if the funeral home paid for a premium listing they would put the positives reviews back online. Sounds like social blackmail.

I reached out to a close friend, Mike Lis, who is the owner of SPECK Media, a social media company in Chicago, Illinois to see what his experience had been with Yelp. Mike sent me the following article to share.


Article from Mike Lis, SPECK Media

I’m not a huge fan of business blackmail and this is what Yelp is doing to many businesses.

Yelp provides online local search capabilities for its visitors. A typical search includes what the user is seeking (e.g. a barber shop) and the location from which the search is to be performed, entered as a specific address, neighborhood, city/state combination, or zip code. Each business listing result contains a 5-point rating, reviews from other site visitors, and details such as the business address, hours, accessibility, and parking. Site visitors can aid in keeping the business listings up to date, with moderator approval, and business owners can directly update their own business’ listing information.

That’s what Yelp does, but you should be more concerned about what Yelp is doing behind the scenes.

Yelp is blackmailing local and national businesses across the United States.

How’s this happening?

It’s happening because businesses don’t investigate what is happening with their listing on Yelp. Just like the learning curve that business owners went through with Facebook and Twitter the same learning curve exists with Yelp.

Let me explain this in more detail. Joe’s Pizza Joint gets reviewed by Maggie, Jack and Bob on Yelp. Maggie liked the pizza, but Joe and Bob gave negative reviews. Bob went as far as to criticize the service for being slow and posted a negative picture of the bathroom. Ouch! First off, it’s not too good that these reviews of Joe’s Pizza Joint are on Yelp.

The average local business receives 33 views of reviews in a month.

With just two negative reviews – I’m wondering how many folks have turned away from Joe’s Pizza Joint.

On average it is a loss of 2.3 customers per day depending on the business.

That’s a lot of customers! So what can Joe do?

Well, Yelp gives him options. He can claim his business and respond to those negative reviews, but that doesn’t remove them. Joe can also seek out customers that love the pizza, he can recruit them to make positive reviews – hoping to push those negative ones down the list. But wait, not so fast… Come back to Yelp a few weeks layer and those positive reviews that Joe worked hard on soliciting are gone! Where did they go? They were removed by Yelp. That’s right, removed.

This type of business practice by Yelp has been going on for a while. Jeanette Pavini in 2008 did an investigated report on this, where she interviewed several business owners about what was happening. One business owner said the following, “Yelp’s policy is not to remove negative postings. Instead they removed some positive postings. They refused to remove the bad posting, and then they called me to solicit a business account,” said Kellinger, the business owner. 

For Pavini’s full report click here

Our story about Joe’s Pizza Joint takes another crazy turn when he starts receiving call from Yelp’s advertising department a week later asking him if he wants to target more users, pay for clicks and buy advertising. Bait and switch? I say social BLACKMAIL.

Social Blackmail is a kind term, compared to other ones that other have called Yelp. In 2010 Wired Magazine reported on a case where Yelp was accused of extortion. “The suit alleges that the site tried to get a Long Beach veterinary hospital named Cats and Dogs Animal Hospital to pay $300 a month — for a minimum 12-month commitment — to suppress or delete reviews that disparaged the hospital.”

For the full article by Kim Zetter of Wired click here.

So what’s Joe suppose to do? Pay Yelp or live with the negative reviews? I don’t believe Joe should be backed into this corner. Trust, on social networks is a serious thing. Users and business owners trust Yelp and other social networks to facilitate not manipulate the social process – in Yelp’s case, the reviews process. It’s this trust that has brought down the wall that users use to have about keeping their information private. For the past three years this wall has come down., but Yelp is putting it back up one business owner at a time.

I dare Yelp to contact me, prove me wrong. My company SPECK Media manages Yelp reviews for multiple companies and each of them have had the same thing happen to them.

Negative reviews aren’t uncommon, they have been happening since the days of eBay. eBay’s user review system has been adopted by almost every online social business. Allow unbiased reviews to rate a company, person or product. The system, although it has it’s flaws is basically justifies the mean. If a company, person or product has a few negative reviews there is the opportunity to engage the masses and change public opinion. Yelp doesn’t allow for this opportunity, essentially they aren’t playing by the true rules of social media. They are praying on the aloofness of business owners. Using negative reviews as a catalyst for advertising dollars. Think about it… why else would you call Yelp or even engage them unless you had negative reviews. Common sense dictates that you don’t fix a problem until there is a problem.

Yelp amplifies the problem

My hope in blogging about this is to shed some light on what’s happening. What do you think? Are you a business owner that has had this happen? Share your story.

We are greatly apperciative of Mike letting us share this article.

I am sure that many other funeral homes have fallen victim to the social blackmail practices of Yelp. If your firm has been on the receiving end of Yelp blackmail, how did you handle it?