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Social media and a bad review

March 15, 2010

Yelp, Inc. is a Web 2.0 company that operates a social networking, user review, and local search web site of the same name. Over 25 million people access Yelp’s website each month, putting it in the top 100 of U.S. Internet web sites. (From Wikipedia)

Indeed, Yelp has a FourSquare-like positioning service that can track when a reviewer is also a regular (if the user turns on the feature). It gives that review prominence.

With 25 million people looking at Yelp, one can imagine that a bad review isn’t the best thing for a brand. Over the course of the last few years, Yelp has been sued a couple of times for bad reviews. The latest one has them being accused, again, of Extortion 2.0.

In their response to the law suit, Yelp writes:

Yelp provides a valuable service to millions of consumers and businesses based on our trusted content. The allegations are demonstrably false, since many businesses that advertise on Yelp have both negative and positive reviews. These businesses realize that both kinds of feedback provide authenticity and value. Running a good business is hard; filing a lawsuit is easy. While we haven’t seen the suit in question, we will dispute it aggressively.

The point Yelp makes underscores one undeniable fact about the world we currently live in — a bad experience with a brand will spread a lot faster through social media.

Take Kevin Smith and Southwest. Kevin Smith was deemed “Too Fat To Fly” by Southwest. But that isn’t even where the story ends, because Kevin Smith is also a brand. And he released a new movie called Cop Out. Here’s a sample review:

Director Kevin Smith‘s tweets, jokes and sharp commentary after being denied a seat aboard a Southwest Airlines flight because of his girth were a lot more engaging than Cop Out (*1/2 out of four), his new movie.

Ouch.

As Yelp notes, being good at what you do, whether it’s making pizza or making movies, isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s hard.

Take my industry as an example. Sometimes in advertising, agencies are asked to take something that isn’t that great, and turn it into something that feels, sounds and looks better. It’s those times in an advertising professionals career when they are taking what appears to be an inferior product, and trying to sex it up.

It’s been called many things, but one of my favorites is “putting lipstick on a pig”.

With social media, they will see through the ruse and debate the shade of the lipstick.

So what’s the point? Social media requires that a product or service be good at what it does. We just had a really bad experience with a contractor who wants to learn about social media. My advice to him would be get better at being a contractor.

Yes, there will be people who complain with either a legitimate or not-so legitimate complaint. Social media can help a brand learn from these people, and move forward.

In the first instance, the brand needs to respond and sell. A bad review of a good product or experience will happen — so address them. Explain that the experience wasn’t typical (on some levels, Southwest did a decent job of this).

In other second instance, address the fundamental problem (something that United didn’t so, much to their chagrin). If someone is giving a negative review and they have a legitimate complaint, ignoring them or suing them isn’t the best solution. Addressing it is.

What do you think?

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