Where is your trust?

The Case of Botto Bistro: Gaming Yelps’ Review System


The people reading this blog obviously have heard of Yelp, as we have published an article on Yelp earlier in 2014. If you are to lazy to re-read, basically Yelp is a site that aggregates reviews from customers for businesses in several industries. On paper, yelps business model lies in providing a digital ‘word of mouth’ effect, and earns money by offering businesses to sell acces their accounts to them (i.e., ‘local ads‘). If you search on google with the search “yelp trust“, you’ll immediately find a lot of articles that the current review system is botched. One could say that lies in the dependency of businesses to receive excellent (5 star) reviews in order to keep their business functioning, and other conspiracy theorists claim that Yelp is offering ‘selective filtering’ to keep a clients’ (i.e., a business paying Yelp ) rating up. The latter even resulted the famous court case in 2014, that was won by yelp, setting a precedent on allowing Yelp to manipulate ratings on their site. Ratings manipulation in any case basically nullify the trust and worthiness of the site one would say.

So how would a business deal with being listed on such a service that Yelp offers? Here comes the case of Botto Bistro. Botto Bistro claims that this is their way of dealing with Yelps’ “blackmailing” and review reputation. In a normal case, a business would try to put incentives up in order for users to leave positive reviews. This way of dealing is considered to be the the ‘route to rome’ that is the oldest in order to create an artificial positive word of mouth buzz around your business. Yelp has dealed with such attempts by putting a “consumer alert” on a profile that says that businesses were caught ‘red handed’ by trying to buy reviews from customers . The latter is also perceived by as an ‘honest’ attempt that builds trust in the service.

Take the gun leave the cannoli.

Based in Richmond, California USA, Botto Bistro is doing the exact opposite. They offer a discount for customers that are willing to put a negative review on Yelp on their business listing. They claim that they are willing to pay for negative reviews, which is so ridiculous that it might be working. They have received a letter from Yelp claiming that they “may be offering incentives in exchange for reviews”, which is a clear violation of their Terms of Service. The funny thing is, that the restaurant listed on Yelp is not even a formal client of Yelp. Furthermore, Yelp’s representative in the email listed on sfgate.com claims that “such practices do more harm than good”. Yet the opposite seems to be proven by Botto, even though 2.314 reviews have been removed as of 1 may 2015. There are many listings and news articles surrounding the business that support the likes of david winning against goliath, as the business seems to be flourishing as a direct result of said news.

In the end, one would wonder what this would do to the trustworthiness of a community like Yelp. Full positive ratings are being perceived as suspicious, now full-on negative reviews will be perceived as suspicious as well? What is next? Perhaps, as one user suggest on Reddit: “only read 3-star reviews”…

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