yelp2.jpgStories of Yelp user shakedowns abound, but, perhaps fearing the wrath of angry Yelpers, most businesses have been loath to discuss them publically. Not so Humphry Slocombe ice cream, who proudly announced “Our 1st Yelper shakedown! Yelp girls to me: ‘We’re gonna order then yelp about it-what discount can you give us’? Me: Your joking right?”

Reading about this on SFist, commenter Akit asked “Wouldn’t that be considered extortion?”

We’ll leave that to the legal experts, but we did want to ask Yelp what they thought of this behavior, so we dropped a line to Stephanie Ichinose, Yelp’s Director of Communications.

She pointed us to their Terms of Service, Restrictions on Use section, but we have to say that it’s not terribly clear, from that, that the behavior demonstrated in the Slocombe Shakedown is considered out of line.

Yelp’s FAQ, which Ichinose also referred us to, was a little more helpful, saying:

What if the business I’m reviewing gave me something for free or at a discount?
“You should never accept freebies or discounts in exchange for reviews. For example, if a bar owner offers you a free drink in exchange for a 5-star review, you should not accept his or her offer.”

She says “If a business owner is experiencing this sort of thing they should report it to us immediately at feedback@yelp.com along with any information/evidence. A violation of our TOS or our review guidelines are grounds for having an account terminated.”

Which is tough if you don’t know a Yelping Intimidator’s user name, huh? “A white girl, late 20s” is probably not enough to go on. But, what do you think, are Yelp’s terms and guidelines enough to protect businesses who value their Yelp status? Is there more that they could or should be doing, or is this just the cost of doing business in the age of the cyberhighway?

the author

Eve Batey is the editor and publisher of the San Francisco Appeal. She used to be the San Francisco Chronicle's Deputy Managing Editor for Online, and started at the Chronicle as their blogging and interactive editor. Before that, she was a co-founding writer and the lead editor of SFist. She's been in the city since 1997, presently living in the Outer Sunset with her husband, cat, and dog. You can reach Eve at eve@sfappeal.com.

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  • rgm

    That these ‘Yelp girls’ felt the need to try and shortchange an independent business (whose already-high rating on Yelp would probably not be affected too much by a singular spiteful review) is disappointing. But we cannot leave them out in the cold, tempted by the ravenous cult of entitlement. They’ve obviously been influenced by Wall Street’s display of self-interest and lack of ethics — their demand was a cry for help, on the anniversary of the Lehman’s bankruptcy, no less!

  • Greg Dewar

    Yelp is a stew of douchebaggery. I remember a few years ago going to a Yelp xmas party with the “yelp elite” and not ONE of those f*ckers tipped the bartenders they were getting free premium pours from, free sushi, free food and so on.

    My colleague and I however, happily tipped our bartenders, grateful for gin and tonics made with premium gin for a couple of bucks. by the end, we were swimming in free stuff while our yelp pals were wondering why the two goofy white guys were getting served.

    Sucks to be a Yelp Douche!

  • cedichou

    Yelp is evil. And HS is heavenly, I should write up a yelp review right now. I was more upset at the Chron’s Phil Bronstein’s jab at their prosciutto ice cream. Totally unwarranted.

  • tonga08

    As with anything you read on the Internet, you need to turn on the ‘troll’ filter. The Internet has given every hack out there a voice and an opinion, plus everybody has different tastes. If I see 5 good yelps and 5 bad yelps for the same place, that will tell me that I still have to go there to find out for myself, so a bad yelp doesn’t necessarily mean anything to me. I have been to many restaurants that have been roundly thrashed by the critics and found them to be excellent, and I don’t think I’ve agreed with a movie critic in my life…so I don’t put too much stock in the every day amateur and what they think, precisely because of scenarios like this.

  • Quinn

    Yelp is a great concept, but not without human error and the opportunity for exploitation, just like everything else in this world. I don’t think you can generalize the effectiveness of a social network as business review mechanism based on how well the people next to you tipped at a Christmas party.

    Like a chainsaw, Yelp is a tool (not in the same way that some of these commenters are tools) and you can learn how to use it effectively, although it may seem unwieldy and obnoxious at first. With a little patience and common sense, you can use it to great effect. In the hands of an irresponsible and obnoxious child, it yields only mayhem.

    Those of us who know how to read have learned to filter the reviews and distinguish the ranters, shills and trolls from the legitimate reviews. There’s even a button you can click to “follow” your favorite reviewers so that their reviews pop up first when you look at a business.

    On a side note, I wonder if the folks at HS might have made up a good story for a little publicity and a few sympathetic Yelp reviews. You never know.