Just in time for Halloween, a tale of review policies gone amok. What could be scarier?
Picture this: It’s late October at the imposing Overlook Hotel in Colorado. Enter Jack Torrance (off-season caretaker), his wife Wendy, and their young son Danny. As an aspiring writer, Jack plans to devote all his downtime to writing a novel in the empty hotel.
But the hotel has other plans.
So begins Stanley Kubrick’s cult classic film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining. As viewers discover, Jack and Co. will face a lot more problems than just writer’s block.
The Ghosts of Past Reviews
Like the hotel in The Shining, online reputation management can sometimes look intimidating, if not plain scary.
Are negative reviews hiding in the shadows, never to be completely banished? What about all the conflicting review policies trotted out by Google, Facebook, and Yelp?
When it comes to customer reviews, you’re told to do this, but never that. And erratic policy updates can leave you as confused as a bat-wielding Wendy Torrance.
Never fear. Like Danny Torrance, we’re ‘shining’ a light on the hidden hazards of online review policies. All while keeping your business safe and reputable.
The A-maze-ing World of Online Reputation Management
Yes, the Overlook Hotel is big and creepy. But what about the maze—a labyrinth of tall hedges that leads to dead ends at virtually every turn?
(You’re thinking of Jack chasing Danny right now, aren’t you. Yeah—we are too).
Well, that gigantic maze is the perfect metaphor for the world of online reputation management, which also has more than its share of twists and turns.
Let’s go back in time to illustrate this.
The Wild West, aka the Beginnings of Online Reviews
Way, wayy back in 1999, online reviews started to be a thing. Remember rateitall.com? As Matt Jones of WebPunch puts it, this was also a time for bashing competitors.
Think of this era as the Wild West where official review policies were slim and none.
Back then, positive reviews came quid pro quo from partner businesses. And you better believe that many businesses hacked their competitors’ reputations just like Jack with his axe.
Luckily, Amazon arrived on the scene and set the gold standard for authenticity and reliability in reviews. Sadly, that trend lasted about as long as Jack’s sanity.
Flash forward to a day when online reviews—and review policies—are as plentiful as skeletons in the Overlook Hotel ballroom.
Online Review Policies and Dick Hallorann
Yep, online reviews platforms are everywhere now. Think of the big players: Google, Bing, Yelp, and social platforms like Facebook. These are supplemented by multiple niche review sites like TripAdvisor or Doctor.com.
For every reviews site, there are dozens of review policies that pop out of doorways without warning: The no-gating policy. The no-bulk-solicitation policy. And a host of others.
In theory, these policies are designed to protect both businesses and customers. Much like the Overlook’s head cook, Dick Hallorann, tries to protect Wendy and Danny.
But sometimes, review policies unwittingly make things worse.
Fans of The Shining know that Hallorann warns Danny against entering Room 237 and later tries to warn Wendy after he sees a horrific psychic vision.
The forest rangers also try to check in via radio transmission, but to no avail.
Why do all these warnings go unheeded? In a phrase: communication failure, something that also afflicts a lot of review policies.
When Review Policies Interrupt Your Message
In the case of The Shining, a massive snowstorm knocks out phone lines while Jack purposely disables the radio.
And in the case of online review policies, complex algorithms often knock out reviews that don’t comply with the rules.
Take Yelp, the reviews platform whose policies sometimes penalize even innocent businesses. Or Google, whose policies now forbid review gating (i.e., approaching only customers who will give positive feedback).
The fact is, multiple review policies contain loopholes and restrictions that may appear more foe than friend to local businesses.
Let’s consider a few of the top platforms’ policies.
Google Review Policies That Live in the Dark
Not long after viewers suspect Jack Torrance is off his rocker, a mysterious character named Delbert Grady shows up. It’s Delbert, of course, who went similarly nuts in an earlier decade at the Overlook Hotel.
Whenever Delbert Grady appears, he’s sharing advice—couched as sly innuendo—with Jack. Basically, Delbert fuels Jack’s madness and murderous tendencies.
The Google/Delbert analogy may seem like a stretch—but there are a few similarities.
First, Google hides its review policies so deeply in its support pages that most humans have a tough time seeing them (at least, not quickly or easily). Delbert also stays hidden most of the time.
Protecting Your Reviews from Google’s Algorithm
Like Delbert Grady, Google is a powerful motivator. If Google deletes customer reviews and you don’t know why, ask yourself:
- Are you soliciting only positive reviews? That’s considered “gating” your review for positive sentiment. Instead, use Banyan Reviews to ask customers a neutral question: “Would you leave a Google review?”
- Too many reviews showing up within a short period? Google’s algorithm may flag them—and possibly delete them. Luckily, Banyan can help keep reviews consistent.
- Do legitimate reviews get deleted because they look ‘spammy’? Google usually deletes reviews from the same IP address, so turn off your free WiFi and let your customers use their own data plan.
- Are employee reviews flagged by Google? Encourage employees to review your business via Glassdoor, Indeed, or another appropriate platform—not Google.
- Google taking down anonymous reviews of your business? Concentrate on providing such great service that your customers are willing to log into Google and use their real name when reviewing you.
- Getting more than one review by a customer? Google may flag these reviews. Instead, limit how often you ask the same customers for reviews.
- Can’t see any reviews after your address changes? You probably forgot to update your Google My Business page. Let Banyan Listings help update your NAP so you don’t lose valuable reviews.
Too many review policies may make Google a dull platform, but—like the thoughts in Jack’s head—those policies are persuasive and powerful. Best pay attention.
The Two Faces of Yelp Review Policies
Ah, Yelp. Customers trust you, but you can be a tough taskmaster.
Back in 2004, the creators of Yelp recognized the need for an online review platform that sorted out the trustworthy businesses from the shady ones. The rest is history.
Still, for most businesses, Yelp’s review policies can seem pretty daunting.
Remember the lovely lady in Room 237 who tries to seduce Jack, only to turn into a hideous hag that laughs maniacally as she chases Jack down the hotel corridor?
What a nightmare!
We get it—Yelp is a useful platform that many businesses still rely on. But its review policies are plenty tough.
As Yelp itself says:
- First, don’t ask others to review your business.
- Likewise, don’t ask staff members to collect reviews.
- Don’t run surveys or contests that ask for positive reviews.
Gulp. So, is there an ‘indirect’ way to encourage customer reviews on Yelp without violating these policies?
The Only Safe Yelp Strategy
According to marketing and SEO expert Jayson DeMers, your safest bet is to display Yelp’s free marketing materials at your business and refer to Yelp on your website.
True, this method takes longer than directly asking customers for reviews. But do you really want Yelp to chase you down the corridor?
Forbes contributor Ryan Erskine offers a different view:
It’s not clear how Yelp hopes to catch business owners who solicit reviews. If the main goal is to improve review credibility, then why not make it harder to leave an anonymous review by requiring some sort of verification? Or why not follow in Google’s footsteps and fight spammers with a more sophisticated filter algorithm?Yelp’s algorithm already takes a hard stance on suspicious reviews, filtering out 25% of reviews (often including real ones) and preventing them from affecting businesses’ scores. Not only is Yelp’s Don’t Ask policy bad for consumers and business owners, but it’s also bad for Yelp. – Ryan Erskine for Forbes
If your business still relies on Yelp reviews, make sure to display Yelp badges and stickers prominently on all your materials. It’s the safest bet.
Even better—treat your customers so well that they’ll automatically want to rave about you on every review platform.
Playing With Facebook Recommendations
Fans of The Shining can’t get enough of Jack and Wendy’s psychic son, Danny, and his alter-ego Tony.
In fact, it’s Danny (via Tony) who immediately senses that something is wrong in the Overlook Hotel. Later, it’s Tony who reveals just how bad things really are.
Like Danny, Facebook knows what it’s like to be in a tough, even dangerous, spot (Cambridge Analytica, anyone?). The good news is, both Danny and Facebook are determined to overcome their problems.
So, why did Facebook recently roll out Facebook Recommendations? Were Facebook reviews a problem?
The answer is, probably not. But as Facebook continues its quest for greater privacy (along with less fake news and more user-friendly content), its review policies also face scrutiny.
“People use Recommendations to ask their communities where to go, where to eat, or where to shop. We’re making those Recommendations more prominent on Pages.” – Facebook
The Rules of the Game
According to Facebook, only Pages that allow for Recommendations will show a rating. Also, Recommendations have to be shared publicly in order to be included.
Some businesses feel nervous about Facebook’s decision to kill off reviews, partly because Recommendations uses a scoring system that looks different from the familiar star ratings. Here’s how it works:
In a nutshell, Facebook assigns businesses a five-point score based on how many people recommend their Facebook Page. Happily, past reviews and ratings also factor into the total score.
Not half bad. In this way, the new score looks a lot like the old star ratings.
Most social marketers are optimistic about the benefits of Facebook Recommendations, which encourages more user-generated content while increasing a business’s overall reach.
Like the ghostly Grady twins who appear to Danny, Facebook clearly wants to ‘play’ with its users ‘forever and ever and ever.’
Just make sure you educate yourself about Facebook Recommendations so your business can stay ahead of the game.
The Last Word in Niche Review Policies
We mentioned some niche reviewing platforms earlier. Could any of these platforms’ policies come back to haunt you?
In The Shining, viewers learn that Jack’s history goes back more than a few years at the Overlook Hotel. In a similar way, your reviews can stay online for ages. Maybe even forever.
What’s more, reviews can show up on niche review sites unexpectedly.
By paying exclusive attention to Facebook Recommendations or Google and Yelp reviews, you might miss an outlier review on another platform.
Be a Good Caretaker
Luckily, Banyan Reviews makes it easy to include industry-specific reviews in your overall strategy.
You can also automate your choice of reviews platforms in your reviews requests and consolidate all your incoming reviews to one dashboard so it’s easy to respond.
With a little help from Banyan, you can handle just about any reviews policy you come across.
And remember: when it comes to online reviews, “YOU are the caretaker. You’ve always been the caretaker.”
Need help with online reviews? Stop the horror show and contact Banyan today.