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.