This blog post is a little longer than most, but I am going to cover a few different components of the way online review sites work, or don’t, and let you decide. I will touch on these components: Business to business, customer to business and review site to business, along with some of my personal experiences. It seems that business has been taking a beating for some time, but the tide is starting to turn for online review sites in 2014.
Let it be known that I have two or three negative reviews floating around in cyberspace, out of the hundreds of weddings I have done. Let it also be known that all three negative reviews, come from people’s makeup that I have never actually done. Virtually 100% of the Brides I have done have all been really thrilled with my work and my services. I have never had an unhappy Bride. Not one. Truth. Many have taken the time to write really stellar reviews, many have sent me emails, handwritten notes, and many don’t participate in online reviews at all. I must say, that I don’t have as much time as I would like to devote to pursuing clients, or offering incentives for online reviews. I don’t do it. But many business owners do offer “incentives” for online reviews. Nonetheless, I have been demoted from 5 stars to 4 and a half. I guess it could be worse. One talented hair stylist that has won “Best Of Wedding Hair Stylists” three years in a row, was recently branded a “Hair Nazi” on one review site. Any idea how many stars you loose for being a “Nazi”? She does not see the humor in this at all, and is truly upset by it. This could cause her to lose work, doing what she loves and has a talent for.
This could stem from a simple issue of a stylist strongly advising a Bride with very wavy, frizzy hair not to wear her hair down, in Chicago, in August. In 90 degree humidity, in the wind, in a carriage ride, by the lake, to an outdoor wedding. We are not alone. Some of the best and most sought after artists in the city have some negative reviews. And the few that don’t, will. While review sites, and the Internet in general is a great to do research, look for perspective makeup artists and wedding vendors, it is certainly not the be-all end-all Bible Of Quality Service. Photos of killer spiders the size of houses, political “facts” (complete with graphs and bar charts) that are made on Photoshop are widely circulated on the Internet. We have all seen them.
By now, it’s safe to say, most thinking adults know you can’t believe everything you read online. Businesses get bad reviews and slammed online by their competitors. On the flip side, businesses can purchase false positive reviews, buy Facebook likes, etc. These businesses are called “social bakers”. Cookin’ the books. Unscrupulous for sure, but is really does happen. There is no business that deals with people, that has not had at least one “issue”. This is the normal course of human interaction. No one is perfect 365 days a year 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This works in both directions. The customer really isn’t always right. Customers have bad days too. Mix that with the emotions tied to the wedding industry, and that makes for a volatile combination. Really happy clients are less likely to write a review at all, and someone who is unhappy is much more likely to take the time to write something negative, vent, or even in some cases, write something negative because they didn’t get “their way”, no matter how impossible or unreasonable “their way” was.
There is even a reality TV show documenting this affliction. Truly, this is very rare, but still a reality. As a matter of fact, in recent years, many wedding vendors have added a “Bridezilla clause” to their contracts, protecting them from abusive behavior, language and in extreme cases, physical attacks. As I said, this is rare, I have never personally experienced this, but I do know that it does happen. Emotions run high in the Wedding industry. Sometimes it is just plain case of the “computer courage” people get by having the ability to slam a person or a business online, anonymously, and void of all fact checking ability. It’s there, in black and white, in cyberspace forever. Businesses have become more vulnerable than ever to online attacks.
Then, we have the issue of the way the review sites do business themselves. It seems that they have had more than their fair share of “bad days”. Recently, there have been many articles, news stories, and court cases touching on that subject. It appears that the reviews aren’t good for the review sites. There have been many complaints from business owners claiming that online reviews sites like Yelp, Wedding Wire and the like are extorting businesses by offering to delete negative reviews, if the businesses purchased their high priced advertising. In my personal experience, I had a negative review that did not appear on Yelp (this was filtered by Yelp’s own algorithm for the possibility of being a false review) for two years, and literally 2 days after declining to purchase their advertising, the review appeared. You decide. In recent years, Yelp has been at the business end of several class action lawsuits, spanning several states, claiming that it is running an extortion scheme. And in January 2014 a Virginia Court ruled that Yelp may have to reveal the names of reviewers, in order to prevent false statements.
Yes, the First Amendment protects free speech, but if that speech is false and defamatory in nature, it is not protected under the First Amendment. This could be a game changer, and set the precedent for forcing the online review sites to change the way they do business, with businesses. So what does a consumer make of these online review sites? I would take them with a grain of salt. No business with all glowing reviews has not had one dissatisfied customer. Just as some negative reviews do not mean that you will have a negative experience, or that a business is sub-par. If you see many reviewers who had a great experience with a company, and a couple of bad reviews that stick out like a sore thumb. I would say to give the benefit of the doubt. After reading this article, there is surely that… doubt.