How to Protect Your Business From Yelp Blackmail

Earlier this year, Alden & Harlow’s chef-owner Michael Scelfo took to Instagram when two patrons seated themselves without reservations and refused to leave. Although his response has been criticized as unethical and even misogynistic, there’s a number of people who hail his response as brave and brilliant. The photo (removed by Instagram) yielded nearly 1,000 likes and 200 comments commending Scelfo for not shaming the two patrons but rather exposing them. Shortly after, Scelfo's hashtag #wedontnegotiatewithyelpers went trending on Twitter. Whether you think he handled the situation appropriately or not, this highlights an important issue with online review sites and sparked an interesting conversation in the social media marketing community. Let’s be clear. Yelp is an invaluable tool to business owners and patrons alike. Legitimate negative reviews can be great opportunities to improve on some aspect of your business and convert unhappy customers into brand ambassadors. Unfortunately, however, Yelp and other online review systems have fallen victim to trolls and misuse all too often. Patrons sometimes use Yelp as a manipulative tool for free products and services often referred to as "Yelp Blackmail." What do you do when disgruntled customers use Yelp as a way of defaming your business?


Yelp prides itself on protecting consumers' First Amendment rights, but in a ruling earlier this year, Virginia courts ruled the first amendment does not cover deliberately false statements. Flagging is a tool at the disposal of business owners to protect themselves from dishonest reviews. You must first have claimed your business to flag a review on Yelp. Of course, as a savvy business owner who has taken control of their digital presence, you’ve already done this!

Check negative reviews for language that violates Yelp's Content Guidelines and Terms of Service.

 Click to Tweet! "Check reviews for language that violates @Yelp's TOS #812tips

A review can be flagged because:

  • It contains false information
  • It's been posted by a fake account 
  • It doesn't describe a personal consumer experience 
  • It uses offensive language or contains a personal attack
  • It violates Yelp's privacy standards 
  • It contains promotional material
  • It's for the wrong business 

Never abuse this. Negative reviews are fair game so long as they adhere to Yelp policy. Instead of wasting resources scouring for negative reviews to flag, use that energy to connect with customers and offer a solution. Oftentimes reviewers will edit their own reviews with more favorable ratings after a company has reached out.

The bottom line is, the customer isn't always right, and those who recognize the power of Yelp and online review sites too often seek to exploit it. The number one defensive tool in your arsenal of reputation management strategies should be to offer great products and services, and stellar customer service. Your customers will flock to Yelp to share their great experiences and that engagement helps boost your SEO. If the bulk of your reviews are negative, that poses a problem that is beyond the scope of social media and reputation management. 

Since Scelfo striked back, a Bay Area Chinese Food Restaurant has called out a dishonest Yelp reviewer with Surveillance Footage. Do you support this concept? Why or why not?

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