The Business of Online Reviews

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As dental professionals, we are first and foremost doctors, providing necessary medical treatment to our patients with the utmost skill and care. But we are also business men and women who need to protect the good name and public image of our practices in order to provide that care. In this modern age, the internet can be both a tool for self-promotion and an agent of misinformation and slander. The anonymous review site Yelp, for example, has recently come under fire for its ineffective quality control and suspect business practices. The implications of this controversy affect the broader business community, but could be especially harmful to specialized medical professionals, like us.

The first issue that has come under recent scrutiny is the process by which Yelp chooses which reviews to display and which to hide. According to its own website:

Yelp uses automated software to recommend the most helpful and reliable reviews for the Yelp community among the millions we get. The software looks at dozens of different signals, including various measures of quality, reliability, and activity on Yelp. (Yelp.com)

Obviously, it is important to screen user reviews in order to filter out spam and false testimony. However, many have suggested that this process is not reliable. A growing number of business owners have reported that legitimate positive reviews have been deleted from the site, while seemingly dubious negative feedback remains (Baer). But such complaints are just the beginning in a disturbing pattern of public outcry against the site.

Further allegations suggest that the real issue is not the accuracy of Yelp’s algorithms, but deliberate manipulation and extortion. The website claims that their review selection process “has nothing to do with whether a business advertises on Yelp” (Yelp.com), but several businesses have brought lawsuits against the site, one alleging that Yelp had pressured them into purchasing advertising, punishing those who didn’t by removing positive reviews and leaving the negative. Another claimed that the “company tried to sell services designed to suppress negative reviews or make them go away.” (quoted in Associated Press). Although has consistently ruled in Yelp’s favor, businesses continue to take issue with the site’s business ethics.

Yelp reviews are consistently questionable in this basis. Also, Yelp has been a vehicle for patients to manipulate and threaten professionals in order to benefit by receiving discounted fees and refund payments. The ability for patients or vindictive people who have a personal vendetta against that profession to anonymously vent their personal opinion detracts from the integrity of the reviews. Therefore, it is difficult to know if that negative opinion is justified or is it just for revenge.

As medical practitioners, the services we provide are highly skilled and require an advanced level of education to properly evaluate. Patient reviews may be motivated by a mixture of their anger, their need for power, and their ability to manipulate. The Yelp reviewer may be emotional, needing a sounding board to vent.

A website should not give emotional individuals the power to harm businesses. As we all know, we ourselves may be having a bad day and that anyone that we come in contact with may be a a victim of our wrath. Therefore, a website that is used to vent frustrations out against a professional business that took years to develop appears to be giving that angry, vindictive, unhappy individual power and importance over another party’s life. Therefore, if websites stopped allowing individuals the power to post their venting, and that website took the time to review each business per year with all the reviews submitted for that year, then, maybe that would be a step to respecting business owners and preventing the abusive practices of angry customers who no one can please.

Resources:

Associated Press. “How One Restaurant Fought Yelp’s Alleged Extortion.” The New York Post. 13 October, 2014. http://nypost.com/2014/10/13/restaurant-fights-yelps-alleged-extortion/. 17 March 2015.

Baer, Mark. “Unfortunately, Reviews on Yelp Cannot Be Relied Upon for Vetting Purposes.” The Huffington Post. 27 November, 2014.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-baer/unfortunately-reviews-on-_b_5893400.html 17 March, 2015.

“About Us.” Yelp.com. http://www.yelp.com/about. 17 March, 2015.