I’ve recently read Pete Blackshaw’s Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000, which is a well-written, methodical introduction to consumer-generated media (CGM, also known as UGC, user-generated content). I’d recommend the book to anyone who hasn’t read a book on the topic; if you’re social-media savvy, chances are you won’t learn much (if anything) new, but the anecdotes are entertaining and useful, and the structured approach provides good framework language.
Thus, trust, credibility, and authenticity in corporate engagement are very much on my mind, at a time when there’s a new (resurfaced) controversy regarding local-review site Yelp, which is being accused of manipulating user reviews to gain advertising revenues. Naturally, Yelp denies any extortion of local businesses.
As an analyst, I belong to an industry which is constantly being questioned about the credibility and authenticity of its commentary — the age-old question of whether it’s a “pay to play” business where vendor clients receive ratings and recommendations that are more favorable than those that non-clients get. I still find myself having to stress to clients and non-clients alike that Gartner opinion cannot be bought. It’s one of the genuinely great aspects of working here — the organizational commitment to integrity. This is not to say that there aren’t conflicts — a vendor client has more avenues with which to express their unhappiness with an analyst’s opinion, and attempt to influence it in a more positive direction. But in the end, we pride ourselves on serving our IT buyer clients with honest advice — which means that vendor dollars can’t be allowed to influence analyst opinion.
I imagine that for any organization which provides reviews and recommendations as part of its business, and which accepts money from the entities being rated, has problems with rogue salespeople who attempt to imply, or even outright state, that paying for services means more favorable positioning. So the question is, what’s the organization’s attitude, from the CEO down, towards these things? Is it a wink-wink nudge-nudge thing where the organization only pays lip service to neutrality, is it a don’t-ask don’t-tell thing where the organization is willing to turn a blind eye as long as it doesn’t cause obvious problems, or is the organization really dedicated to ensuring that dollars don’t alter anything?
Which of these categories does Yelp fall into? I’m a pretty engaged consumer — I read reviews on Yelp, and I write them from time to time. I’ve got a keen interest in knowing.