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On April 1, 2009, the East Bay Express published a letter from an anonymous Yelp employee that supports exactly what small business owners have been saying -- the practice of extortion is not just a few bad employees, but actual company policy.
Is this the East Bay Express' bad idea of an April Fools' joke or is it actual proof that this problem exists? The URL and contents of that letter follow:
That letter is titled "Can I Buy You Dinner?" and is available here: http://www.eastbayexpress.com/news/letters_for_april_1/Content?oid=954059
Your story, "Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0" was riddled with errors. In fact, I'm amazed that you would stoop to such a new low in journalism. The suggestion that "rogue" sales reps may have been responsible for telling small business that if they advertised with us then we would hide negative reviews about them is a bald-faced lie. The truth is Our Small Business Revenue Enhancement Program is a company-wide initiative. In fact, it was just one set of ideas we rolled out to make Yelp more profitable. I'm afraid that our other programs will have to remain confidential for now because of proprietary reasons. I'm sure you understand.
The reason we invented these "enhanced revenue techniques" is that Internet advertising revenues are virtually nonexistent, and creating a business model based on them was a stupid idea. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool or a liar, or both. Unfortunately, we bought into the hype.
But we all know that no one reads your pathetic little rag. So this letter will probably be ignored, much like your stories. And if it does get picked up, I'm sure our friends in the MSM will have our backs. The fact is that people's love for the Internet blinds them to the truth. Indeed, our business model depends on it.
Anonymous Yelp employee, San Francisco
I'm curious if the anonymous yelp employee was confirmed to be an actual employee before publishing his/her letter to the editor. You don't generally publish anonymous letters (you require a name and city of residence), so I must assume that you actually confirmed the identify of this person. If that's true, I believe you just blew the lid right off the yelp extortion story!
That employee claims that sales reps offering to remove negative reviews in return for advertising dollars is not just a few bad employees, but actual company policy. Really?! If that's true, then why doesn't yelp stop denying it and publish their actual policy. And, by the way, how does one avoid extorting business owners with a revenue model like that?
That person also claims that such tactics were necessary since "Internet advertising revenues are virtually nonexistent, and creating a business model based on them was a stupid idea." Really?! Is Google aware of this problem? Didn't they earn upwards of $20 billion in internet advertising last year? The idea clearly isn't stupid, just yelp's execution of that idea.
That person then goes on to insult the East Bay Express, and claim that if his/her letter is published, main stream media will be there to protect them. That person then insults all yelpers and business owners by saying "people's love for the Internet blinds them to the truth. Indeed, our business model depends on it."
If this letter was submitted by a confirmed yelp employee, then this should be enough to get the Department of Justice involved. Yelp employees are the ones who can tell us what is really going on there. If they won't come forward on their own, then how about a little persuasion from Lady Justice?
The folks at yelp are most certainly shaking in their boots (made from endangered lizard skins, no doubt) right now. Their own review page is being inundated with one star reviews from both business owners and yelpers, all of whom are disgusted with yelp's business practices and their unwillingness to explain the problems or even offer up a simple apology. Yelp simply refuses to accept any responsibility for the problem they created.
After Jeremy posted an incredibly suspicious interview with a local mattress company owner (who has mostly 5 star reviews except the single 1 star review that really doesn't say anything bad), he vowed to host a weekly interview with other business owners on his blog. It is no surprise that he was unable to keep that promise, since there are so few supporters of yelp left (real ones, anyway).
It is very obvious in reading some of the posts here that they were written by yelp cronies. They are written in typical yelp fashion, which is to take no responsibility for any wrongdoing and to instead insult everybody else in the community.
When this story first broke, I had hoped that yelp would offer up an explanation, fix their problems, and stick around. Now I just want them to go away. The amount of time that has passed without an explanation or apology from yelp pretty much tells us just how deep the hole is that they dug for themselves. There is no way they will ever restore the public's trust in their website, and they totally blew it by ignoring our demands for an explanation all this time. It just doesn't work in today's business environment, but maybe Jeremy Stoppelman would have known that if he hadn't dropped out of business school.
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