Thursday, August 14, 2008
UGC EvilDoers and Yelp
I like Yelp. A lot. I have consistently found the comments on the site insightful, often witty, and here's the best bit - useful - when I am trying to figure out where to go and get something.
So it came as somewhat of a shock to me when I read yesterday's article in Theregister.co.uk about the service and accusations by some small businesses that Yelp offered them a pay to play scenario in which they could move negative comments to the bottom of the list, or eliminate them altogether.
Hey, I am not getting in the middle of that googly - I am neither a restaurant or store owner, nor familiar with the back end of Yelp, so I have no idea whose right or wrong in this instance.
I will say that if it was PROVEN that Yelp was gaming its own system for pay, that would be the end of using Yelp for me. I don't think I am alone in this, and I am sure that the Yelp people know it. But I also know that money pressures are horrible and things get done that no one likes on occasion. I am remmebering back when people would hire temps to sit at desks in the dot bomb to "look busy" when prospects came.
So Yelp and the small business owners have their fight. I do believe in a presumption of innocence. I also think that if it did happen it was more likely the act of a desperate salesperson than a company policy. That however, is no consolation for the gal or guy running her or his own biz, and if that was the case, heads should roll in that sales dept.
But the article pointed out some interesting things that I think we all sorta know but don't necessarily like to focus on -- the most important being that wild popularity does not necessarily begat profitability. Yelp has proven rather difficult to monetize, much as was/is CitySearch and YouTube and and and.
Part of the reason for this is that advertisers are so reticent to be in places like these - places where people instead of editors and brands control the content.
I am a big believer in brand safety but I am coming around to the notion that people get it that the people who pay for the banners on a page are not endorsing the people who write negative stuff -- rather they are supporting media outlets that allow people to express themselves, more or less regardless of whether they agree with those messages.
I am not saying that a banner on Youtube is a noble act of corporate citizenry and largesse but that rather the banner reflects what people like and where they are, and that a dwindling number of people will find a link between the content of a flame UGC post and the advertiser message elsewhere on the page.
The other thing is that users of UGC need to recognize that every F F F post they make -- and every absurd allegation -- ultimately limits their future ability to express themselves because advertisers won't want to be a part of it.
And one more -- UGC pubs need to understand the tightrope they walk -- that their sites can break small business owners if irresponsible people are allowed to make outragous allegations. Monitoring is both a cirtical aspect of the business and a moral responsibility.
Thanks for reading and don't forget to write.