Transparency on the fly

Posted on April 8, 2010 3:36 pm by | Transparency

Companies can achieve a lot of transparency through proactive effort. No matter how transparent you think you’re being, though, your customers and other stakeholders can always help you find opportunities to do better.

The mark of a transparent company isn’t getting it right immediately. It’s the degree to which the company is ready to make changes to its operations in the interest of transparency. From the perspective of an outsider, Yelp seems to have gotten that right.

imageNews of changes to Yelp, the popular customer review website, came Monday via the company’s official blog in a message from CEO Jeremy Stoppelman.

At first blush, the changes seem minor. Gone is the “favorite review,” a feature that was only available to companies that bought advertising on the Yelp site. And you can now link to the reviews that don’t show up on a company’s listing. The reason for these changes goes deeper than simple changes to what you see when you visit Yelp.

Complaints about Yelp have been growing louder and more frequent. For example, nine businesses have joined a lawsuit against Yelp, accusting the company of extortion and fraudulent business practices. The original complaint, Filed by a veterinary hospital in Southern California, claimed that Yelp responded to the hospitals request to remove a negative review from a customer because it violated the company’s guidelines. The review returned, however, while the the hospital continued to get ad sales pitches that included offers to hide negative reviews.

For some time, Yelp has been claiming that it doesn’t overtly manipulate reviews. What we’re seeing is the effect of the Yelp review filter. The filter’s algorithm is designed to “protect customers from fake, or shill, reviews and businesses from malicious reviews from competeitors,” according to Vince Sollitto, Yelp’s vice president of communications, quoted in a Wall Street Journal story.

In an effort to make the filter easier to understand—that is, to become more transparent—Yelp commissioned an “explain” video that was posted to the official blog and to YouTube:

Producing the video and making it available through multiple channels is an example of transparency. Transparency is a simple concept: making information accessible to stakeholders so they can make informed decisions. That’s what Yelp did by trying to make it easy to understand a complex topic that was causing misunderstanding.

It wasn’t enough, however, so on Monday, Yelp made it possible to link to the reviews that had been shifted off the company’s page. As a result, according to Stoppelman, “you can see that Yelp’s review filter works just the same for advertisers and non-advertisers alike. There is not—nor ever has been—a bias.”

As for the “favorite review,” even though it was always labeled as a part of the Yelp ad product, Stoppelman said, “it led some people to the wrong conclusions about whether businesses could control the review content on their page. (They can’t.) So, to eliminate the opportunity for that misconception, we’ve eliminated the feature.”

What’s still left unanswered is the claim from litigants that advertising salespeople have been clear in their pitches: Buy ads on Yelp and we’ll hide negative reviews. That could be overzealous salespeople or it could be a decidedly unethical business practice sanctioned by the company’s leaders. Yelp continues to insist that it’s all a misunderstanding resulting from the confusion caused by the filter and the “favorite review” feature.

I hope it’s true; I also hope we get a more straightforward answer about what salespeople are saying. But Monday’s actions are a good example of being transparent on the fly, being ready to make a change in the interest of transparency based on what you learn from the marketplace.

You won’t learn a thing if you aren’t listening. Truly transparent companies won’t wait for lawsuits to clear the wax out of their ears.

04/08/10 | 1 Comment | Transparency on the fly



  • 1.This is a really interesting post. I have heard of yelp! before and am not surprised at all that many companies are not jumping for joy with the concept, at least not the companies with bad reviews being written about them. I am very glad they took down the "favorites" application as it was only for those companies advertising with the site. I mean give me a break, isn't this the exact thing we are trying to get away from with social media marketing? Transparency is key and I love that you say that companies with real transparency don't have to wait for a lawsuit. That is right on! Thanks Shel!

    Meghan Callahan | April 2010

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