Has Yelp Lost Its Social Value?
Some of my blog readers know I started my tech career in BI and Analytics and am not new to algorithms and their use. Ready Set Go Social! (RSGS), my consulting company, was an early adopter on on implementing social enterprise applications. Often consulting to medium and small businesses on the use of customer reviews. We’ve long praised the power social sites and reviews as a key to a business’s digital exposure and success. But we’ve admittedly spent the bulk of our consulting work in and around Silicon Valley. We’ve catered to digital leaders in technology and innovation.
RSGS an early Yelp Inc. (Yelp) fan, jumped on the social network and transparency train for all the value it could bring. Admittedly we were unwittingly biased by working in areas whose consumers had early and often digital exposure.
Today, I am going to blog as a small business owner in Tucson, Arizona. Tucson a place where Yelp has not had much of a foothold. Tech innovation is sadly lacking as is digital savviness. Having relocated to Tucson in 2015 to releasing healthcare apps using machine learning and AI, I had no idea of my surrounding market’s naivete. Industrious by nature in 2016 I expanded my local business portfolio to include a pool repair and maintenance business. Three years later, Ace Pools Tucson (APT) went live on Yelp February 6, 2019. This launch enabled Ready, Set, Go Social! a first-hand view into Yelp business model unlike we have had before. As well as, a bit of a test for Yelp from a small business perspective. In a town where word-of-mouth make up the bulk of effective business referrals.
Tucson, is a small-town city, that attracts a large population of retirees and snow birds. The place enjoys stunning weather 8 months out of the year and then becomes hell on earth for 4 months when temps can reach as high as 115 Fahrenheit. Pools are a staple in many homes. Owning a pool business is a bit of a no-brainer in a town like Tucson. A typical pool maintenance customer in Tucson is an absentee homeowners (snowbirds), a retiree, or someone who just don’t have the aptitude or interest to do the work themselves day-in and day-out. Coincidently, the bulk of Tucson’s pool maintenance consumers are not heavy Yelp users.
In fact, three APT customers wrote 5-star reviews within a couple days of going live and Yelp hid all of them. APT called Yelp’s Customer Service to see if some sort of error going on. The response we got was disturbing and prompted this blog.
APT was told that Yelp’s algorithm removes reviews from reviewers who don’t have “enough” Yelp history as reviewers. Needless to say, this makes up most of APT’s pool maintenance customers as well as the bulk of Tucsonans.
The principal consultant at Ready, Set, Go Social (RSGS) went back to Yelp’ mission statement as it was written Jan 13, 2013: (https://www.yelpblog.com/2013/01/introducing-lives)
“Yelp's mission is to connect people with great local businesses; along the way, we hope to enrich lives of consumers and small business owners. In pursuit of this mission, we want to provide the most helpful information possible about local businesses”.
Yelp’s mission statement implies a social network catering to local customers and local small business by transparently offering independent reviews that overtime elevate great business from their customers’ experience and as result bring more business to those businesses. A wonderful mission but one that is not working in non-tech markets where Yelp is not yet a common tool.
RSGS calls for Yelp to either re-dedicate to its mission with all its implied transparency by adjusting its algorithm to account for local variances or limit itself to only certain markets and transparently admit join the ranks of paid reviewed services.
Yelps algorithm is faulty-- as it no longer functions to remove fake reviews in fact, by only keeping reviews of active reviewers it supports them. Yelp needs to readmit all the reviews that it now hides based on novice reviewers if the local market is made of novice reviewers.
Originally Yelp algorithm’s mission was to hide reviews it deemed violated it’s “user agreement.” User agreements require the use of appropriate language and some admission or volition by use that the reviewer is actual customer of that local business’s services or products.
There are many companies (e.g. Amazon) that use a verified customer model—to add value to their reviews. This is an option that could clearly clean up and benefit Yelp reviews.
RSGS proposes an effective algorithm for Yelp needs to reflect the local population if its function is to assess the value of a review in a local market. Valid reviewers need to be vetted by age, social contribution aptitude, location verification, and some active customer verification for a local business. All dubious reviews should allow for some verification by the small business owner whereby they can prove that the review is a verified customer. In fact, market customization could be a win-win for Yelp.
It could expand its exposure, viability, and usability in a local market by engaging first-time local reviewers with a welcome packet that explains how to use Yelp to benefit the local community. RSGS welcomes all commentary on this blog.
Noreen Poli is product manager and consultant at Ready, Set, Go Social! Her projects range from award winning methodologies to end-to-end mobile gamified applications. Her background in product management is enhanced by experience in user research, analytics, human behavior, and social giving her a unique skill-set custom made for this era of realtime analytics and personalized products.