Yipes or Yelp

There are three main ways that business owners can handle bad reviews on Yelp or shopping sites like Amazon:

1. Ignore them.
2. Do such an excellent job that, on balance, the good reviews more than cancel out the bad reviews.
3. Forbid them under penalty of a hefty fine, as a hotel in Hudson, New York, tried to do.

The Union Street Guest House instituted such a policy for all guests of a wedding party, inserting contractual fine print specifying that guests who posted negative online reviews about the hotel would be assessed a $500 penalty. Part of the hotel’s rationale for the policy, according to CNN, was that the owners felt that many wedding guests might not appreciate the quaint hipness of the hotel in the same way that the bride and groom might. The guests might complain about old furnishings, for example, because they’ve been spoiled by the bland modern conveniences of chain hotels. In other words, the hotel needed its strict no-negative-review policy because it apparently took a pretty dim view of many potential customers.

Obviously, all the guests dutifully abided by the policy and left lovely little notes in the hotel’s guest register when they left.

At least, that’s what would have happened if such a thing as the internet didn’t exist. What happened instead is a perfect illustration of the Streisand Effect, the principle that the attempt to squelch information through legal means only serves to bring more attention to it. In Barbra Streisand’s case, she once sued to get an aerial photograph of her Malibu home removed from photos of the California coastline, citing concerns about her privacy. Almost no one saw the pictures until she sued, after which everyone saw them, and there went her privacy.

You couldn’t get a better example of the Streisand Effect if Streisand herself were to pop up out of your computer and belt out a Broadway tune about the address of her oceanfront property.

The hotel’s efforts to censor bad reviews instead led to hundreds of one-star reviews on its Yelp page from customers who had never stayed there, followed by news reports about the ordeal ricocheting through the social media echo chamber.

One moral of the story is don’t threaten customers to stop them from posting bad reviews. But maybe there’s a better one: If you’re at all sensitive to bad reviews, don’t go into the sort of business that gets reviewed. Unlike with love, it’s not better to have been reviewed and lost than never to have been reviewed at all.

Jeremy Ryan
Social Media Managing Editor
Wells Fargo Daily Advantage 8/13/14

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