Yelp Sues SMB Reputation Firm for Shady Review Solicitation, Management

Revleap

Yelp has sued a company called “Revleap” that says it will deliver 4 or 5 star reviews on Yelp while withholding reviews of three stars or below in “the control center for your quality control.” To many business owners this sounds like the answer to the unending challenge of gaining a steady stream of positive customer reviews.

The lawsuit presents a range of claims against Revleap, including trademark infringement, unfair competition and false advertising. Yelp contends the company is not only violating its own terms but completely scamming business owners:

Revleap, which has cycled through various names including “Yelpdirector” and “Revpley,” has spammed businesses with unsolicited messages claiming that they can get good reviews to stick and remove bad reviews. One thing Revleap actually does, it seems, is bombard their clients’ customers with surveys. Customers that respond favorably, and agree to post a review, are entered in a drawing for gift cards in an effort to deceptively boost their clients’ reputations.

Revleap’s business model is the sort of thing that can put small businesses at risk with respect to our Consumer Alert program and federal and state regulators who often crack down on businesses that try to artificially inflate their online reputations.

Reviewing the collateral on Revleap’s site, it’s clear the company is misrepresenting what can be done (e.g., removal of negative Yelp reviews). However Revleap appears to be following many practices that are pretty common: using post-purchase customer surveys to identify positive experiences and then selectively posting or asking for reviews to be posted on key sites. Entry into a prize drawing is used to encourage positive reviewers to post on Yelp.

There are others in the market that use or have used drawings and contests to encourage review writing and posting. Drawings and other compensated or incentivized reviews like this are prohibited by Yelp because ultimately they may distort consumer opinions. Yet many use them and see nothing wrong here because there isn’t a 1:1 quid pro quo.

Revleap appears to operate on the darker end of an ethical gray zone around reviews. Companies like this capitalize (literally) on SMB ignorance, frustration — even desperation. Reviews have become a critical part of online marketing but there remains confusion about how to collect them and what’s permissible, especially regarding Yelp.

There are many ethical firms out there monitoring reviews and many that seek help SMBs collect and distribute reviews online. Among them are Reputation.com, GetFiveStars, Customer Lobby, Refgo, Review Pro, Grade.us and others. I don’t know the workings of all these companies but the ones that I’ve spoken to seek to do things in an ethical way.

Different consumer sites have varying rules or standards about collecting or soliciting reviews, with Yelp being probably the most strict. Other sites or programs are more lax. I don’t think Facebook has many consumer guidelines, if any, for local business reviews. And Google provides various high-level incentives (or used to) for Local Guides to write reviews (membership, access to Google swag).

Accordingly there’s not a ton of consistency among top review sites, which is a problem for SMBs. Because what may be OK for Tripadvisor, Google or Facebook may or may not be OK for Yelp or Angie’s List. Ideally there would be a set of clear standards that everybody adheres to or substantially adheres to.

I don’t see that happening soon. Unless or until it does there will be many companies that prey on frustrated, indignant or unsuspecting SMBs who simply want to address what is a very real challenge and very real imperative in the market — influencing and advancing their online reputations.

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4 Responses to “Yelp Sues SMB Reputation Firm for Shady Review Solicitation, Management”

  1. Dave says at

    To a certain extent, Yelp created the review monster and now Yelp is dealing with how it got “out of hand”.  By the way, that is a very slick presentation and strategy:  Generate survey’s to surface and create reviews…then filter out the negatives so that they never emerge for public view and push the positives out to the public.

    Slick, slick, slick.

    In a general context the restaurant industry doesn’t need to ask for reviews.  People like reviewing restaurants.  Greg:  As I recall the last data I saw on percentages of reviews per vertical/industry  showed something like 46% of all reviews were on restaurants.  Is that a fair number and/or a number that represents the latest research???

    So if restaurants don’t need to “ask for” or manage reviews….it leaves “review management” to virtually every other industry/vertical.  

    It is somewhat freaky and disturbing, from the perspective of the smb operator, that this newish phenomena has become so time consuming and so important, and at times so vital.

    Of course Yelp is the monster that sort of created the phenomena.  Their policies and history have contributed significantly to the agony and despair of so many smb’s.  

    I hope this case drains their time and money and resources and just goes on endlessly.  It would be sweet justice.  😀

  2. Greg Sterling says at

    I think Yelp’s review distribution is on their corporate site. Would have to look up the numbers. The tactics that Yelp is suing over are pretty “mainstream” from a reputation management perspective. Agree that Yelp has some karma here.

  3. Dave says at

    Greg:   So here is some consumer survey info on what types of businesses are reviewed:    …. from of all sources:  SELand:   http://searchengineland.com/local-consumer-review-survey-2012-part-2-120321

    You guys did this in 2010 and 2012.  Have you updated?   Are there other surveys of this ilk???

    My impression is that when a reputation management company starts marketing that they can “manipulate” existing yelp reviews they are feeding the smb’s a bunch of buffalo shuffle.

    But then again Yelp has generated tons of complaints about manipulating its “algo’s.  Most smb operators I speak with pretty much hate them.  I’m quite confident they targeted at least one of our smb’s to “alter or “adjust” the algo” and clearly NOT in our favor, and clearly not one that seemed “fair” based on how they normally operate.

    Again…possibly this case will go on forever and ever and drain both of these entities.  That would be “fun” to watch.   😀

  4. Bob Misita says at

    Greg,

    Thanks as always for posting. 

    As you point out this revleap product appears to cross the appropriate line in several important respects including the compensation of reviewers.  Also, any reputation product that claims to be able to target a specific external review site (like Google+. Yelp, etc) should undergo extreme scrutiny since doing so is clearly manipulative and a natural violation of the reviewers free will as to where they post.  

    I also am personally and ethically against using a tool that selectively pre-screens (or filters) based on the star rating of a review.  It is my belief that if a customer is asked for their review, the business has an ethical obligation to treat that review the same regardless of the rating.

    More and more local SMB’s are understanding that they need to balance where dynamic content (such as reviews and other geo-specific information) is published – with their branded business website being as important as any external profile. Long-term development of branding and content ownership (reviews are an important component) will determine the winners and losers among local SMB’s.

    ((( btw – I’m sure you meant to add the Nearby Now product to the mix of ethical offerings servicing the space. )))

    Thank you – Bob

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