Tag Archives: Yelp

Believe It Or Not

We’re busy prepping Rancho Deluxe for sale and so we’re in need of some outside services to perform tasks such as washing the roof (damn lichen). In our digital age, I’m doing what any person would do: checking the web for reviews as well as for potential service people. The problem is not finding information. The issue is knowing which information to trust. I suspect this is an issue for you and for your business as well.

There are review sites such as Yelp and Angie’s List. Yelp, in particular, has a reputation, justified or not, of having issues. Fake reviews are allegedly rampant and the company has been accused of elevating negative reviews to higher positions in the results if the company doesn’t pay to advertise on Yelp. As an aside, a court found that even if they were doing that, it wouldn’t be illegal, but it sure makes one question the validity of what you learn. Angie’s List has had similar problems, saying that they’re consumer driven when 70% of their revenue comes from advertising. That makes them less than disinterested information brokers in my book.

Do people really use reviews? A new study by Trustpilot suggests that 88 percent of consumers say that reviews help when deciding what to buy and where to buy it. The study also found, however, that only 18 percent say they think online reviews are actually valid, so do consumers believe them or not? As a business owner, can you believe what you’re reading or not before you think about taking action?

I don’t think there is a simple answer. Most fake reviews are fairly easy to identify. You look at how many other reviews have been written by the author, you check if there are multiple reviews with similar verbiage, etc. I’m a fan of Amazon’s identifier of reviewers who actually purchased the product via Amazon, and some sites let you see if the person has actually checked in. That’s more of a clue for negative reviews in my book. Yelp and other sites are probably more of a help as a consumer than they are as places to conduct business based on some of the alleged shady business practices. Check multiple sites and social media, gather a lot of information and form an opinion based on the preponderance of the evidence (can you tell I hang out with lawyers?).

Actually, that last sentence is probably good advice for anything we do in business, wouldn’t you say?

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Sick Reviews

Today’s Foodie Friday Fun finds us at the intersection of food, data, and social media.

New York Skyline

(Photo credit: CJ Isherwood)

Yes I know we’ve been here before but today’s tidbit concerns an article in the NY Times the other day. The NYC Health Department conducted a pilot study using Yelp reviews to see if they could identify unreported outbreaks of food-borne illness.  Despite what some may think, not everyone calls the city to let them know they got sick eating someplace.  What many folks do, however, is post something on social media.  Since Yelp is the go-to site on dining out, it would make sense to start here.  One can easily see the effort expanding to other likely places – Twitter, Trip Advisor, etc.

So what did they find?

Using a software program developed by Columbia University, city researchers combed through 294,000 Yelp reviews for restaurants in the city over a period of nine months in 2012 and 2013, searching for words like “sick,” “vomit” and “diarrhea” along with other details. After investigating those reports, the researchers substantiated three instances when 16 people had been sickened.

Doesn’t sound like much but it’s a start.  Maybe you’re aware that Google tried something similar to help spot flu outbreaks.  There is a bigger business point here.  What the city is doing is growing big ears.  They’re learning to use the vast amount of self-reported data to eliminate problems in some cases before they’re actually reported via the official channels.  The three instances they found were open for business with no complaints on the official record.  Inspections turned up unclean conditions at all of them.

The real question is how are you going to do something similar in your business?  Maybe you’re watching your Facebook page for negative comments or responding to people pinging your brand account on Twitter.  What are you doing to get beyond those quasi-official channels?

I wrote the other day about the need to improve data quality.  Sure – in theory a bunch of vindictive people could trigger a health department visit by writing up negative posts containing keywords or phrases.  In theory, I could win the U.S. Senior Open.  Neither is likely to happen.  What is likely to occur, however, is that your competition will find new ways to seek out and use information to drive their businesses forward.  Will you be there with them?

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Fooled Again

Foodie Friday! The subject today isn’t actually food itself but the places in which it’s served. You probably how competitive the restaurant space is – just think about how hard it is for you to decide where to go eat when you go out. Which cuisine? How far to go? Is this new place any good? We’ve all been there.
More often than not these days, people turn to review sites such as Yelp for information.

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s not news to any of us that some of the reviews on Yelp (and other review sites) are fake. Great ones may have been posted by the restaurant, bad ones could come from a competitor. Yelp has an algorithm that is supposed to spot and eliminate those issues to a great extent.  The folks at Harvard B-School released a study about it.  What they found is interesting but not terribly surprising:

First, roughly 16 percent of restaurant reviews on Yelp are identified as fraudulent, and tend to be more extreme (favorable or unfavorable) than other reviews. Second, a restaurant is more likely to commit review fraud when its reputation is weak, i.e., when it has few reviews, or it has recently received bad reviews. Third, chain restaurants – which benefit  less from Yelp – are also less likely to commit review fraud. Fourth, when restaurants face increased competition, they become more likely to leave unfavorable reviews for competitors. Taken in aggregate, these findings highlight the extent of review fraud and suggest that a business’s decision to commit review fraud respond to competition and reputation incentives rather than simply the restaurant’s ethics.

They looked at 316,415 reviews of 3,625 restaurants so it’s not a small study. That said, this doesn’t even address an individual who had a nice meal with good service but maybe had a run in with another customer and decides to blame the restaurant with an inaccurate review – I’d call that just as fake as the others.

The NY Attorney General cracked down on businesses that were writing fake reviews.  It’s a problem for anyone who relies on the internet for research.  So don’t.


Yes.  I wrote that.  Instead, use the web to find out about available options and use trusted sites with paid, professional reviewers.  Then put down the device and ask a friend or coworker or family member.  There’s an expression in computing – GIGO – garbage in, garbage out.  That’s what many review sites are like despite their best efforts (and I mean that they try to weed out fake stuff sincerely).  Some of it is the blind leading the rest of us – who knows how educated and daring the palates are of most amateurs?  A bunch of it is fraud.  The problem is we don’t know which is which.

Or maybe we just need not to be afraid to be “wrong” about the choices we make and go and enjoy an evening out with someone?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Ending The Week On A Brutal Note

I’ve been informed that I was a bit brutal on the good, hard-working folks at CL&P yesterday. Maybe, but sometimes honesty is mistaken for brutality, and I try always to be honest here on the screed. If any of your relations or friends work for the power company here in Connecticut  I’m sure they’re doing the best they can.  Whomever is directing them, however, needs to think about another profession.

With that in mind, let’s turn to our Foodie Friday Fun. What else but brutal restaurant reviews?  This piece from HuffPo highlights 10 of the most scathing restaurant reviews they could find.  The piece makes a good point – brutal reviews are always more fun to read than positive ones.  As it turn out, they get wider circulation via social media too.  Having written a few bits of snark in my time, I’ll tell you they’re way more fun to write.  I mean, it takes a fair amount of effort to find a clever and accurate way to say “it sucked”.  Each of the reviews cited is fun – I particularly liked this one from Frank Bruni – and well worth a few minutes of your time.  That said, they do raise an interesting business point.

Suppose you were on the receiving end of one of these babies?  Are your listening posts set up to recognize them?  Is there someone who is designated with responding in a non-confrontational, transparent manner?  What do you do if the criticism is accurate and warranted (that gets well beyond fixing some bad reviews, I know)?  Can’t happen to you?  Check out the reviews not related to restaurants on Yelp sometime.  Google will serve up local search results with negative reviews embedded.  Private sites such as Angie’s List can kill you with you ever knowing it.  Brutal, indeed.

It used to be that a negative newspaper review was bad but not fatal.  After all, very few papers have the kind of circulation (even years ago) that could kill a business.  Word of mouth could hurt, but that took a long time, giving a restaurant ( or any other business) a margin for error.  Not any more.  Restaurants open and close in weeks – there is no time to fix it so they need to start out very good and get better, listening to the information flow all the while.  That’s brutal!

Are you listening?

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Filed under digital media, food, Reality checks