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To the casual observer, the world of online reviews has never been healthier.

We are constantly asked to leave reviews, or check-in, and the worst excesses of Yelp and the businesses that try to control posts, seem to have been brought under control.
However, all is not well in the world of online reviews, if it ever was.

The story of the gentleman who created a fake restaurant and got it to become the Top-Rated restaurant on TripAdvisor really should have us never trusting a review site ever again. The story is extraordinary in many ways. That the gentleman concerned made a living writing fake reviews for restaurants, and then was able to manipulate the system to such an extent that a non-existent restaurant, that nobody could find (and they tried), are just two. That the whole thing went on to become such a phenomenon that he effectively had no choice but to create the restaurant to service the demand, is just the icing on the cake.

Yelp, that boogie man to most small businesses, are increasingly cracking down on those who request reviews. Always against Yelp’s terms of service, the practice of asking for reviews is considered best practice by most marketing professionals with the occasional caveat for Yelp. One look at the unregulated, and widely gamed world of Google Local reviews, where a significant proportion of reviews seem to be highly suspicious, and that lack even the admittedly flawed tools that Yelp uses to protect their review ecosystem, should give one pause. The wild west of Google’s review space is so out of control that businesses that do not game the system are at a distinct disadvantage.

It is actually to Yelp’s credit that they do care about their review ecosystem. It is easier to report a Yelp review that a business has issues with, than with any other platform. Yelp also takes seriously the practice of Yelp Bombing and the Weaponizing of Reviews;

particularly when it comes to a business in the news. However, far too many customers use Yelp as a threat, or even as downright extortion, on a daily basis. Even with Yelp’s reporting tools, the rules are still so arcane and at times they can seem downright arbitrary.

To add to the bad news in the reviews world we have to add the knots that both Glassdoor and Indeed are tying themselves up in by trying to have their cake and eat it. Glassdoor, which created a space for employees to share salary, benefits, and culture reviews about their former, and current employers reads more like a platform for griping from former employees unless your company is of sufficient size to generate more than just a handful of reviews. In order to monetize their site, Glassdoor are now encouraging employers to advertise on their platform with limited success. Why would an employer help pay for a site that essentially tries to undermine the narrative that an employer tries to portray to new hires?

Indeed, the highly successful job board that bases its pricing model on an adwords like format, now want to try and imbed employee reviews about the companies posting jobs. Effectively Glassdoor is trying to become Indeed, and Indeed is trying to become more like Glassdoor. What both companies are only now coming to realize that businesses are generally not fans of an unregulated review space, which all too quickly devolves into a method for revenge for former employees who feel wronged. Which in turn means employers can feel they have no option but to try and game these sites themselves. Plenty of new employee orientation sessions now include a “write a review” segment.

So, the review world is a mess. How to fix it?

In a twist worthy of one of its own plot lines, the dystopian science fiction anthology show “Black Mirror,” currently on Netflix, potentially shows a way out of the quagmire of everyone trying to manipulate the review space to their own ends. Titled “Nosedive,” the Black Mirror episode is set in the near future where everyone is concerned about their social media profile, which affects everything from their job to where they can live, and follows a young lady trying to leverage a wedding invitation to increase her social standing. However, things do not go as planned.

What is interesting about the episode is the idea of a single social profile that has, for want of a better word, a points system based on karma. Be nice to gas station attendant and your karma goes up. Be a jerk and it goes down. Of course, things work both ways, but it does highlight the problem with the review space as it currently stands. With the possible exception of Facebook, the vast majority review sites do not require, and sometimes do not even allow, real names. None of the review platforms allow for business to review customers, and while on Yelp and Google, one can see what their history of reviewing is like, there are no consequences for constantly leaving bad reviews, or trying to blackmail a business.

Lyft and Uber do have a review platform that works both ways, between customer and driver, however this is less of an open system than just a general ranking. It is a step in the right direction though and one that the more traditional review sites could learn from.

Facebook is probably in the best place to implement a customer ranking, or even a review ranking system. Facebook is become ubiquitous in so many areas. For those who have read Ernest Cline’s superb “Ready Player One” will recognize that Facebook is essentially placing itself as an equivalent of “The Oasis:” a portal on an online virtual reality environment where people work, learn, and play.

There was a time when if a customer had a problem they would complain to what was essentially an independent body, who would help to try and come up with a compromise to customer service issues and arbiter disputes. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) did not fair well in the internet age and is now pretty irrelevant with most customers now turning to Yelp or Google.

Businesses are mostly at fault for not doing a better job of embracing the BBB, however, with the swing firmly going in the other direction now, and the space being corrupted out of all reason and sense by both businesses and customers, things have to change if reviews are to be of any relevance or even any use.

The days of the BBB do seem rather quaint, but maybe their model was right after all. I look forward to a level playing field with or with out a referee.

And remember to leave me a review!

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I’ve written a lot about Yelp.

Why I think Yelp’s business model is flawed, how I’ve pretty much come to terms with Yelp on a daily basis, and how to defend yourself from Yelp Bombing when things really go wrong. However, there is a new review demon out there, and they are making all the same mistakes as Yelp and the other review sites, but unfortunately, they also are adding a raft of new ones. This is the rise of the job boards allowing for reviews of employers from “in theory” former employees.

Indeed.com, and Glassdoor.com, are the two that have recently come to my attention, but I am sure there are other sites going down this road and it is such a flawed idea that it is actually quite amazing that it got past the development stage.

Glassdoor, is a site whose purpose is attract reviews of employers by former or current employees. They actually do a reasonable job of allowing a platform for employers to promote what they do, the benefits they offer, and the company culture. Glassdoor also state that they perform checks to ensure that reviews are genuinely from employees, have a flagging system for reviews with issues, and also have a platform for companies to respond. Glassdoor also offers companies the opportunity to place job ads through their system as a source of revenue – if not the only the only one.

Indeed.com has followed a slightly different path. They have an extremely successful job posting board, with fantastic SEO properties at a reasonable cost. I’ve used Indeed.com for years. However, Indeed.com now offers users of their site to review employers.
So, what is the problem with job sites allowing for the reviewing of employers?

Let’s, for a moment, think about those who go to job board sites on their free time. By definition, those people are either out of work or looking for work so they can leave their existing job. There is absolutely no reason for a happy and content employee to visit one of these sites. This is in stark contrast to Yelp and other consumer view sites. People tend to have just one job, but everyone uses multiple businesses every day. Therefore, the majority of people in a position to review on a jobs site are those who have either chosen to leave, or who have been terminated from a job. The number of terminated employees who have warm feelings towards their former employer, regardless of the right or wrong of their termination, are pretty minimal. There is a reason that it is against Yelp’s terms of service for former employees to review a business they used to be employed by.
Reviews are anonymous. It’s hard to respond to a review that states “I was wrongly terminated” other than with the most generic of responses when you have no idea who the employee might be.

In addition, most HR departments and employers decline to give any kind of review about an employee’s employment due to the legal consequences of doing so. It’s hard to see these kind of reviews as anything other than an attempt to entrap an employer. Much like Yelp and the other online review sites, the sample volume is pitiful – only more so. If an employer has 200 employees, but only three reviews, how is that in anyway a representative sampling.

Finally, employers are the ones being asked to pay for this system. What is in it for employers? Sure, great reviews might help attract new talent, but not in a system that seems geared towards creating bad reviews. Indeed.com, for example, at the time of this writing has no flagging system for bad reviews and no way of communicating about a review other than sending an email to Indeed.com’s main customer service department. Indeed.com’s reps, much like Yelp.com’s reps, state there is nothing they can do about a product they are asking employers to pay for.

Now gaming this system would be a pretty straight forward process. These sites are actually asking for employees (current and past) to review their employer and unscrupulous employers can bring pressure to bear on employees, whether perceived or actual. But then what is the point? If the sites want genuine reviews, this is not how you go about getting them – it might not even be possible. There is a reason why LinkedIn, for all its faults, has never gone down this road other than with personal endorsements. You can read a lot into a lack of endorsements on LinkedIn.

Because of the legal climate, former employees get little in the way of references from the majority of employers. It could be that if both employers and employees genuinely want an open review ecosystem then that could be possible. But that would mean that employers would have to be free to review former employees. That is not going to happen any time soon and I’m not sure anyone wants to see what kind of bloodbath that would cause.

Company reviews from jobsites, as they currently stand, are untrustworthy at best, and perhaps a platform for dishonesty and disingenuous communication. They should be treated with scorn by both employers, who are being asked to pay for them, and jobseekers to whom they do a disservice.

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