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Posted by on Feb 20, 2009 in Marketing | 0 comments

Pay-to-play – make the bad reviews go away

I’m a poet and don’t know it; the faster I try to write something the more likely it is to have an internal rhyme in it. Or maybe I’m a rapper in another life.

Anyway, Crystal King just mentioned an article in a tweet about how Yelp may be extorting customers with threats about bad reviews. I’ve got my own story to tell about the BBB, based on personal experience.

First, I suppose I’m biased. I have never been a member of the BBB, I don’t recall ever using the BBB as a consumer, nor complaining to the BBB, and I don’t know many people that have. Perhaps they were relevant in another generation, but I’m over 40 and I can’t say they’ve ever helped or hurt me either as a business person or a consumer.

They’ve called me a few times over the years and I’ve just brushed them off. A year or two ago, however, a rep called me with the “suggestion” that I need to join the BBB because “they’ve had some inquiries about our business recently.”

I asked how many, and he couldn’t tell me that. I asked if the inquiries were negative and he couldn’t tell me that. He continued with his spiel about membership, and the whole gist was that if I joined, I could find out who was saying what about me, and of course the process of becoming accredited by BBB would tend to purge me of whatever my past sins might be as a business. Perhaps not as pointed as the alleged Yelp extortion, but unless this approach was just that of one “rogue rep,” it does seem as though the BBB has started to realize that they can only hurt your business, not help it, which is not a very appealing business model to try to attract business memberships.

And then there’s Dun and Bradstreet, but don’t get me started on that.

The ethical conflict here, of course, is that if you’re in the business of providing consumers with information to help them make decisions about businesses, you really shouldn’t be soliciting those businesses at all. Of course, there’s no way to make that work. So at least you should only be allowing “sponsored links,” and refraining from manipulating the results of the feedback system. Yelp is allegedly tinkering with that, or worse, perhaps even seeding bad reviews in the system. In my opinion, BBB’s scare tactics about supposed feedback, which they did their best to make me think might be bad feedback, are almost as bad.

I checked just before posting this. You can’t find any information about my business, good or bad, in their search engine. Hopefully it will stay that way. 🙂