The Dark Side of Social Media

Many people are talking about social media marketing as the hot new thing for promoting just about any type of business.

Social media is having an impact. Sadly, not all of these impacts are positive. There is a dark side to this technology that involves reputation blackmail and extortion.

The focal point of this problem is online reviews and the impact of online review sites.

Reviews are becoming increasingly important in search engine results. They are a big contributor to how high a site rates in search engine standings. In fact when you search a business, the online reviews usually pop up in the third or fourth position.

Yelp is one of the largest review sites on the Internet. They post reviews for just about every business imaginable, from restaurants to business banks. Reviews are posted by members and businesses accumulate a rating anywhere from one- to five-stars.

The problem is that there is no verification whether or not the information posted by a reviewer is true. It might be completely fabricated. Ideally, you would think there would be some type of fact check or review for truthfulness.

Actually, that’s not the way it works at all.

Yelp uses a secret system based on a special formula which filters out certain reviews they believe might be biased.

Usually they filter out the five-star reviews. I suppose they figure that if someone joins Yelp and gives you a five-star review they are probably your buddy from college, a coworker, or your mother.

Sadly, they don’t seem to treat the negative reviews the same way.

One local award-winning photographer has a three star rating on Yelp. (A three-star rating is death to a business when there are so many other 5-star options available to consumers.) Their rating is based on four reviews.

When you look more closely, however, you’ll see that Yelp is filtering 17 other reviews. One of those is a 4-star rating that would boost their average. The other 16 are all 5-star reviews. If all the reviews were taken into account, they would have a 5-star rating instead of a paltry 3!

Is this some sort of a fluke? Not really. The photographer confided to me that the positive reviews used to be included in his overall ratings. It was only after he told Yelp that he wouldn’t be advertising on their site that a large number of his positive reviews became filtered.

Coincidence? Perhaps. But the hit to the photographer’s reputation continues. It’s hard to calculate what this translates to in lost business.

Question: What is the difference between true love and negative postings on the Internet?

Answer: Negative postings on the Internet are forever.

Another disturbing trend being reported in urban areas is called Yelp Extortion.

Restaurants are increasingly reporting cases of diners who come into their establishments and demand to be given free food, gift certificates, or cash. The threat? Unless the restaurant buckles to this extortion they’ll get scathing reviews about the restaurant posted on Yelp to kill their business.

Think of it as a technology update to the forced “insurance scams” criminals used in the past to shake down local business owners.

And the problem is that with search engines giving more and more weight to reviews, the potential for reputation damage is growing. For example, when you search a business on Apple’s new Maps program, it offers to list the reviews as well.

Think that you’re safe because you haven’t listed your business on Yelp? You’re not. Someone else can add you to the Yelp listings and then smear you online. I’ve seen it happen.
What is the solution to being one bad review away from taking a hit to your business?

It is time to go on the offense.

A solid reputation management program is now a requirement for just about anyone doing business. That means focusing on increasing the volume of high-quality, positive information about your business online.

Since you can’t stop a competitor, a disgruntled employee, an irate customer, or even an extortionist from posting whatever they want about you in a review, you must preemptively reduce its impact by balancing it with other, positive information.

When should you start such a program? Yesterday would have been good. You see, it takes time to build a solid online reputation. You really need to start the process well before you have a problem.

If you already have ten 5-star ratings, a 1-star review may not have much of an impact. If, however, it’s your only review, it could have a devastating effect on your business.

A good reputation building program will include searching and correcting any inaccurate listings or information about your business. It would also generate and encourage positive reviews, articles, endorsements etc.

We have been able to provide clients with a service that notifies them within two hours of a negative review being posted on the major sites. This gives them the opportunity to contact the disgruntled person to resolve the problem. And the now satisfied person can amend their negative review to make it positive.

With recent studies showing that more than 70% of people do a Google search about a business before they contact them, this step is vital.

Things can be tough on the mean streets of the Internet. By taking steps early, you can protect your reputation if and when it comes under attack. You can avert a substantial negative effect on your business.

To Your Business Success,


Are you looking to raise the effectiveness of your marketing? The first step is to have a conversation. (800) 595-1288 to schedule a no-obligation telephone meeting. Or, simply send an e-mail.

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Richard Wilson is the Founder/Chief Marketing Strategist for Sentium Strategic Communications which helps companies craft the right message for extraordinary results. Over the past 33 years, his clients have ranged from startups to major technology companies.


© 2012 All Rights Reserved. All people who are looking to dramatically boost their business should read this rezone. Don’t even think about reproducing this document or its contents without written permission from Richard Wilson. But feel free to forward this or e-mail it to all of your friends. For reprint permission please call 800-595-1288.