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Updated: March 27th, 2020
In 2014, Union Street Guest House in New York went viral for all the wrong reasons — to keep their Yelp rating high, they decided to charge couples who booked weddings at the venue $500 for every bad review the wedding guests left unless the review was removed.
Unsurprisingly, their strategy backfired.
Not only did the internet swarm to their Yelp page to post negative reviews, leaving the inn with a paltry 1.5-star average, but the inn also became a well-known case study on how not to deal with online reviews (and social media in general).
According to its Yelp page, the guest house is now closed.
Yelp for small business is a polarizing discussion. Whether you like Yelp or hate it, it’s clear that you should take customer reviews seriously and have a clear plan for dealing with them. To put things in perspective, consider that:
Happily, not every story needs to end like Union Street Guest House’s. If managed correctly, Yelp can help make your business stand out over the competition. Here’s how you can use it to your advantage.
The key here is making your business look as legitimate as possible so that prospective customers trust your Yelp page (and in turn, you). This just involves a few steps:
Let’s be honest: you’re probably already monitoring your page. You might as well spend a few extra minutes replying to reviews.
This is critical, as it allows potential customers to see that you’re responsive, which may make them more likely to choose you over your competitors.
As a bonus, businesses that respond to reviews may experience a 10% upgrade in average star rating, according to Yelp.
If you’re not comfortable addressing complaints on your actual page, try direct-messaging the reviewer. Of course, you shouldn’t simply ask them to take their negative review down — as we’ve learned in the case of Union Street Guest House, that tactic can quickly backfire.
Nor should you get defensive and blame the reviewer or make excuses. After taking some time to cool down (if you need it), look at the review again and figure out the best way to respond:
It may not be fun, but giving a heartfelt and personalized response can actually turn your detractors into your biggest advocates.
It’s just as important to respond to positive reviews as it is for negative reviews. They did take the time to recommend your business, after all! Your response doesn’t have to be a novel — just a few sentences that sincerely thank the reviewer both for their business and kind words.
One last piece of advice for both positive and negative responses: Don’t write the same message over and over again. A lazy copy-and-pasted message will remove all sincerity from even the best-written note!
Potential customers have their eyes on you, and they’ll see how much effort you put into each response. It may take a few extra minutes, but try to keep each response unique. Think of it as an investment in your company. You wouldn’t put up a crooked sign in front of your business — keep this public image just as squeaky-clean.
Yelp is a great way to get a pulse on how customers feel about your company. Continue doing the things people like, and focus on improving the less-successful areas of your business. While getting a negative review is never fun, if you look at it as an opportunity to improve upon the issues people care about, everyone wins.
Any way you look at it, if you take a little time to invest in Yelp, it can pay off in the long run. If your reviews are positive, it could drive new customers your way. And even if your reviews are negative, you may be able to change their opinion with a quality response. Plus, you’ll know how you can improve in the future.
It doesn’t take much to win on Yelp. As for what not to do? Just remember four words: Union Street Guest House.
Paige Smith is a Content Marketing Writer and Senior Contributing Writer at Funding Circle. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and specializes in writing about the intersection of business, finance, and tech. Paige has written for a number of B2B industry leaders, including fintech companies, small business lenders, and business credit resource sites.