Ever since online review sites have become popular on the Internet, business owners and dentists alike have been trying to figure out a way to deal with the public’s ability to post negative reviews online and instantly jeopardize the dentist’s business reputation.
Often supposed customers are allowed to post reviews in which they don’t disclose their real names or the type of relationship they’ve had with the business and business owner they’re reviewing.
The Wealthy Dentist has reported on these types of reviews where the negative posts were initiated by an ex-girlfriend or an ex-business partner with an axe to grind against a dentist.
This has called into question the validity of online reviews and how much the public should trust them.
Recently members of a Southern California business networking group, South Bay BNI, came under investigation by Yelp for running a “review-swapping ring” where group members attempted to boost their Yelp ratings by posting positive reviews about each other’s businesses, as reported by the LA Times.
The problem was that BNI members were a little over-zealous in their efforts.
They hosted a chapter contest in which members scored points and received prizes for publishing positive reviews about each other on Yelp.
But they didn’t stop there.
They allegedly moved on to actively asking for positive Yelp reviews on Facebook and LinkedIn, resulting in some members receiving as many as fifteen five-star reviews.
David Lee, Yelp’s user operations manager told the LA Times, “This was a sophisticated effort to bolster the reputation of members of this business networking group through five-star reviews. Reviews that have a bias lead to a poor consumer experience.”
Members of South Bay BNI like Rosanna Savone defended the BNI reviews as legitimate by telling the Times, “We didn’t think we were violating any guidelines. There was no secret mission to outsmart Yelp.”
The BNI philosophy is that “Giver’s Gain.” Each BNI member commits to reaching out to use fellow member businesses first before patronizing the same type of business outside of the BNI network, in other words, the South Bay BNI members really did use the services of the member businesses they reviewed on Yelp.
Yelp deleted the reviews, but it does bring to light yet another problem with online review sites: what constitutes an “honest” review?
Since reviewers are not required to be their “real selves” on Yelp, negative online reviews are quite often posted by business rivals and people out to hurt one particular business for purely personal reasons. Facebook, on the other hand, does not allow “fake” identities and will shut down an account it deems to be false.
Dentists have been forced to implement ways to counter the risks associated with managing their dental reputations online — especially when it comes to online reviews.
Yelp has often been criticized by business owners for being too quick to bury positive reviews while doing nothing about false negative reviews until attorneys are involved.
It is a long-standing business tradition that when a customer tells a business owner how much they value the service they’ve received or asks what they can do for the business, the customer is asked to provide a testimonial. This is even taught in business marketing classes in college.
So how is it not okay for a dentist to ask a patient offering a testimonial to place their thoughts on Yelp in the form of an online review?
Or, the BNI member who asks a fellow member’s testimonial be put on Yelp in the form of an online review?
Even Yelp itself utilizes testimonials from business owners in its advertising, as seen in this online video in favor of Yelp advertising —
All the “testimonials” in the above video are “positive reviews” for Yelp advertising — now how is this different from a business owner asking a customer to post a positive review on Yelp?
At the end of the video Yelp doesn’t disclose the relationship it has with these business owners, or how much money they spend advertising with Yelp.
If we are supposed to trust these testimonials because Yelp has provided them to us in their video ad then why can’t we be trusted to judge positive business reviews on Yelp on our own too?
What do you think about asking dental patients to add their positive reviews to Yelp? Do you think it is a violation of Yelp’s policies?
What are your thoughts on online review sites? Do you think that they play fair?
For more on this topic see: Yelp reviews: Can you trust them? Some firms game the system